Share Tweet

Analysis of "Under the Lions Paw"

July 5, 2006
Southwest Mortgage
Deterministic Propaganda

Naturalist writers often promote a negative view of society focusing on the hardships the poor and uneducated face in everyday life. This deterministic view, used by many of the naturalist authors, disseminates a pessimistic outlook on human existence and is prevalent in the stories they write. The short story “Under the Lions Paw" written by Hamlin Garland illustrates his cynical vision of society by telling the heart-wrenching tale of a young farmer’s economic struggle against overwhelming odds. Appealing to the reader’s emotions, Garland successfully propagates his deterministic view by emphasizing the inherent hardships of the independent farmer, projecting class division between the have’s and the have not’s, and correlating land speculation with greed.

Garland exploits the reader’s emotions by accentuating the endless struggle the independent farmer faces in pursuit of The American Dream. The story opens with a detailed description of a farmer plowing his fields in the driving snow. Yet, what farmer plows his fields in the snow? This first paragraph sets the mood for the entire story by exaggerating the futile toil of an independent farmer and his continuous struggle against the elements. Garland writes, “No slave in the Roman galleys could have toiled so frightfully and lived, for this man thought himself a freeman, and that he was working for his wife and babes"(818). This line conveys subconsciously to the reader that the farmer is not the freeman he foolishly believes, but merely a puppet controlled by something or someone greater than he. It leaves the reader with the idea that no matter how hard and how long the farmer works, there will always be something or someone that will impede his progress, forever keeping him “Under the Lions Paw."

Garland further propagates his deterministic view by projecting a separation of class through cleverly placed descriptions that chronicle the disparity in lifestyles between the protagonist and antagonist, Mr. Haskins and Mr. Butler. In Garland’s description of Mr. Butler, he writes favorably of the hard work that led Butler to his present day financial stability, but cleverly injects the thought, “at this period of his life he earned all he got"(814). This statement suggests that Mr. Butler presently does not earn all he gets as he once did and that his current occupation of land speculation is somehow an exploitive occupation rather than actual work. He also takes the liberty to chronicle his hunting and fishing activities throughout the year, implying that he spends more time enjoying the finer things in life while his share croppers are forced to spend long hours scratching the earth to eke out a meager living, all the while enriching Mr. Butler. In one scene, Mr. Butler is found, “wearin’ out his pants on some salt barrel somewears"(815), further emphasizing the class separation between Mr. Butler and his sharecroppers. Mr. Butler is able to sit around chewing the fat with fellow friends while his poor sharecroppers are toiling at the back of a plow. Garland masterfully illustrates class division through creatively placed back-stories and descriptive caricatures further drawing in the reader and fine tuning his deterministic jargon.

Finally, Garland ensnares the reader in an emotional trap by correlating greed with land speculation. In the final scene, Mr. Butler is walking around the land he leased to Mr. Haskins on shares. Many improvements have been made and Mr. Haskins has done an incredible job of turning a run down farm into a top-notch producer. Mr. Haskins, high on emotion, with another successful season under his belt is now ready to talk seriously about setting up terms to buy the farm from Mr. Butler. Mr. Haskins is crushed when he learns the new asking price for the farm is more than double what Mr. Butler was willing to accept just three years ago. The clever way Garland tells the story makes it impossible not to feel a sense of voracity put forth by Mr. Butler. In the eyes of the reader, Mr. Butler has greedily raised the price of the farm by more than double knowing that Mr. Haskins will have little choice but to pay it or leave behind three years of hard work.

In some ways, it is easy to see why Mr. Haskins is so upset at the new price of the farm and why he feels he has been taken advantage of, but what is harder to see is the truth of the situation. The farm was available for half the amount just three years ago, but that was before Mr. Butler had equally gone into partnership with Mr. Haskins. Mr. Butler supplied him with land to raise crops and a home for his family all in the hopes of a good harvest. What if there would have been bad weather, insects had infested the crops or Mr. Haskins had been a bad farmer? The big loser would have been Mr. Butler, for it is his land and his home, and his repayment for its use squarely rests on the harvest. After three good years of harvest the farm is worth significantly more than it was just three years prior. Mr. Haskins had the opportunity to buy it three years ago but decided to do a test run on the land to see if he could make a go of it. He has gained not just a good farm and a good home for his family but the knowledge that the land he is currently using is well worth buying. All was made possible by the generosity of only one man, Mr. Butler, who took a chance on a penniless unknown farmer. Not only does Mr. Butler deserve gratitude but he also deserves a fair price on his farm.

The truth of the situation is cunningly glossed over by the artistic writing style of Hamlin Garland. As a reader, it is easy to feel all the pain and toil of Mr. Haskins and his family and relate to his feelings of betrayal. It is much harder to take a step back and look at the overall situation to gain the perspective of both men and their motivation when only one character’s situation is laid out in detail. Garland wittingly engages the reader’s emotional side by calling attention to the difficult challenges that the independent farmer faces, promoting class division and associating land speculation with greed. Garland uses these tools because it is much easier for one to react with emotion than to counter with perception.

48,860 - 85 - 0 - US