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Personal Experiences in Olive Ann Burn's Cold Sassy Tree

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It is not difficult to find a connection between Olive Ann Burns’ life and the characters of her novel Cold Sassy Tree. At the time the author was writing this novel, she was also dealing with cancer. “Being a journalist, I never expected to get around to fiction,” but in 1975 a cancer diagnosis altered her plans. Even before she left the doctor’s office, she had decided to write a novel, a decision that “surprised me more than the diagnosis” (Purcell, 53). To keep her mind busy, she began a novel with characters based on the tales her father had told about his family. Although she began assimilating those tales after her mother’s death from cancer, she had not developed them into a coherent storyline. Her character, Will Tweedy, grew up in the same time period as did her father and would have experienced the major changes of that era such as the introduction of electricity and automobiles.
Burns was sixty years old when she wrote the novel Cold Sassy Tree which was set in the same area of Georgia where she had been born. In her lifetime, she had experienced teenage emotions, the responsibilities of a wife and mother, and had dealt with the death of a parent. Since she was a journalist, she could identify those emotions and breathe life through words into her Cold Sassy Tree characters. Those words were spoken with a North Georgia accent. As she explained in an interview with Publishers Weekly, “The way I speak is how Will Tweedy talks in the book” (Summer, 66).
In an article for The English Journal, Olive Burns was quoted as saying, “I never consciously had a theme. The publisher says the theme is family. My sister-in-law, a high school English teacher, says the book has many themes, prejudice being one. Andy [Bur...

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...pens, it’s all right” (Cold, 35).
Olive Ann Burns’ Cold Sassy Tree is a brilliantly written, simple story. The themes of family, prejudice and death affect all readers. Life is not always a “bed of roses”, but Burns uses humor to strip away the thorny problems and leaves only the beauty of the rose.

Works Cited

Burns, Olive Ann. “Boy howdy, ma'am you have sent us a fine book.” The English Journal. Dec. 1989: 16-20 Web. 14 NCTE Jan. 2014
---. Cold Sassy Tree. Boston: Houghton, 1984. Print.
Purcell, Kim. "Olive Ann Burns." The New Georgia Encyclopedia. Ed Hugh Ruppersburg. Athens: U of Georgia, 2013. 53-55. Print.
Summer, Bob. "Olive Ann Burns." Publishers Weekly 9 Nov. 1984: 66-67. Print.
Twain, Mark. "Letters to the Earth." Norton Anthology of American Literature.Vol C. Ed. Nina Baym.8th ed. New York: Norton, 2012. 347-51. Print.