What expectations are evoked by the title? By Garland’s epigraph? Do you think these expectations are fulfilled by the contents of these stories?
What are some themes which recur repeatedly? Would you describe Garland as a realist? A naturalist? Are there sentimental or moral themes which accompany/modulate the claim that these stories reflect life accurately and without idealism?
What prior stereotypes of rural life and nature is Garland’s collection designed to undercut?
What view of rural life is presented? Are there redeeming aspects of this difficult life, and if so, what? What are some of the best traits of Garland’s farm characters, and some of the worst?
To what degree are gender roles enforced in this society? In what ways does Garland introduce feminist themes?
How are animals presented in the story? Do they share the harsh lot of humans?
What are some features of Garland’s style? Is his author omniscient?
What is added to the stories by the use of rural Wisconsin/Iowa dialect?
“Up the Coolly”
Where is this story set, and how does this setting influence the story? What is a “coolly”?
What contrasts organize the story? What gives it a sense of suspense?
How is Howard characterized? Grant? Where are the reader’s sympathies expected to lie, and do these shift? What changes and recognitions make Howard a more sympathetic character?
What is added by the portrayals of Howard’s mother and Grant’s wife Laura? What is the effect of her confession to Howard that she regrets her marriage?
Is the abruptness of the ending effective? Do you find it cryptic? What effect is created by the absence of a conventional form of closure?
Why does Grant refuse Howard’s offer to buy back the original farm? What point is made by his claim that life for 99% of the population will continue unchanged?
Do you think he is experiencing clinical depression? What do you predict as his future fate? Howard’s?
“Under the Lion’s Paw”
What circumstances are referred to in the title? Who is “under the lion’s paw,” and what has caused their plight?
What do we learn about Stephen Council and his wife in the opening scenes? How have the Haskin family been affected by their losses, and how do they respond to the kindness of neighbors?
Why isn’t Haskin able to buy the farm as promised? What makes this refusal especially ironic and bitter to him?
What stays his hand from murder? Why do you think the author includes this last scene? How are we to interpret the ending?
This story is sometimes noted as an expression of Garland’s belief in Henry George’s proposal for a tax on absentee landlords. Why would such ideas have been attractive to him?
“Mrs. Ripley’s Trip”
What do we learn about Mr. and Mrs. Ripley in the opening scenes? What does Mr. Ripley’s surprise and incredulity reveal about their life situation?
Where are the readers’ sympathies expected to lie? Under what circumstances does she make the trip home?
What account of her travels does she give after her return? What are her emotions on returning home, and what do these reveal about her life and character?
How have her menfolk fared in her absence? How would you describe the tone of the ending?
“A ‘Good Fellow’s Wife”
This tale was written two decades after the others (1922), when Garland was more prosperous and successful than he had been earlier. Can you see a difference in setting, tone or plot emphasis?
What do we learn about the townpeople in the opening scene in which they discuss the opening of a bank? Do they understand the issues involved? How do they first react to Sanford’s note?
Investment fraud and bank failure were common occurrences until the establishment of the FDICC in the 1930s—and they remain issues today in different forms. What motivates the “good fellow”’s theft? What temptations does he face?
What do we learn about his wife’s ambitions and character? How do her actions affect the outcome?
What are important aspects of the near-lynching scene? Which characters prevent the mob from acting? Have they also been robbed by Sanford?
On what new basis must the reconciliation of husband and wife be established?
Do you find the fact that Sandford’s speculations are ultimately successful a contradiction to his earlier beliefs and to the story’s ostensible moral?