Religion and Coming of Age in Olive Ann Burns’ Novel, Cold Sassy Tree

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Religion and Coming of Age in Olive Ann Burns’ Novel, Cold Sassy Tree

In the small southern town of Cold Sassy, Georgia, at the turn of the twentieth century, teenage boys had to grow up fast. They were not in any way sheltered from the daily activities of the town. This was especially true for fourteen year old Will Tweedy. Olive Ann Burns’ first, and only completed novel, Cold Sassy Tree, tells of young Will’s coming-of-age. His experiences with religion, progress, and death in Cold Sassy escorted him along the path to manhood.

During the early 1900s, the south was full of religious fervor. Most small communities were based around two or three church families. Cold Sassy Tree, which is a recounting of Will’s memories, contains
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Rucker believed in God and prayed often, but he also questioned the Lord’s meaning on some issues. When Will asked his grandpa if surviving getting run over by a train was God’s will, Rucker answered “You can believe thet, son, if’n you think it was God’s idea for you to be up on thet there trestle in the first place. What God give you was a brain. Hit’s His will for you to use it—p’tickler when a train’s comin’” (Burns 97). Rucker’s matter-of-fact philosophy pervaded the novel and, along the way, influenced Will. Since Will’s relationship with Rucker was so close, Will often asked him questions, some pertaining to religion. Will’s most important religious question was “Grandpa, uh, why you think Jesus said ast the Lord for anything you want and you’ll get it? ‘Ast and it shall be given,’ the Bible says. But it ain’t so.” This marked a major maturation milestone for the young protagonist. Will reluctantly realized that he couldn’t have everything. He then wanted to know why. Following in his Grandpa’s footsteps, he questioned his religion. After the question was posed to Rucker, he admitted to Will that he wasn’t quite sure of the answer. Then later in the story, Will eavesdropped on a conversation between his Grandpa Blakeslee and Miss Love. Rucker said, “When Jesus said ast and you’ll git it, He was givin’ a gar’ntee a-spiritual healin’, not body healin’. He was sayin’ thet if’n you git beat down…why, all you got to do is put yore hand in God’s and