EnglishShort Story

The setting of "Strong Horse Tea” by Alice Walker


Rannie Toomer lives in a house that is on its last legs. There are cracks in the window panes and walls. She is poor, so she cannot afford strong walls and roofs. Her son is dying of pneumonia and whooping cough because cool air creeps from the chinks all over the house. She has to use advertising pamphlets to cover these gaps. Her house is in a pasture surrounded by animals. After reading the story, one gets the impression that the house is bound to collapse if a strong thundering storm hits the town. The thundering in the sky is enough to end her son’s life. The house fails to protect him from the calamities of weather.

Anti-pastoral Note

The “Strong Horse Tea” echoes anti-pastoral tradition in many ways. The poor protagonist, Rannie Mae Toomer, the helpless mother lives in a pasture surrounded by the “fat white folks cows and an old gray horse and a mule”. As critics are of the view “And there is no hint of pastoral romance in the image of the “fat winter fly” roosting on the forehead of her child, Snooks, who will ultimately die of “double pneumonia and whooping cough”. However, Walker refuses to privilege a contrasting and more urban, albeit southern, domain: the narrative tension of the short story is, in fact, created by Rannie’s waiting for “a real doctor” from town to arrive with his presumably superior arsenal of cures; having refused the help of the community witch woman, Aunt Sarah, and the “swamp magic” she proffers, Rannie realizes too late that a more urban world, the traditional anti-pastoralist preference, has ignored her plight and abandoned her to the meager resources of her home community.”

Winter Storm and Snooks’ Death

The winter storm, which continues in varying degrees of fury, serves as an important symbol. Rannie cannot escape; it pours through the walls of her shack, and it drenches her on her two errands to help Snooks. All the while, tears pour down Rannie’s face, left unwashed for five days because of her concern for her son, and leave “whitish snail tracks.” This is late winter rain, and the death that the season brings is matched in the death of Snooks, whose breathing stops with the thunder.

Role of Nature

It is the part of nature that provides Rannie Toomer a source of getting strong horse tea—horse urine for her son’s treatment. At the same time, nature acts in a hostile way when the mud caused by does not allow Rannie Toomer to reach her place easily with strong horse tea. “And ankle-deep in the slippery mud of the pasture and freezing in her shabby wet coat, she ran home to give the still warm horse tea to baby Snooks.”

Again, the Author describes a horrible aspect of nature Rannie is facing during the process of getting strong horse tea for curing her son; Snooks. Here Walker describes a terrible aspect of nature. “Thunder rose from the side of the sky like tires of a big truck rumbling over a rough dirt road. Then it stood a split second in the middle of the sky before it exploded like a giant firecracker, then rolled away again like an empty keg. Lightning streaked across the sky, setting the air white and charged.”

Irony in the Setting

The story has been set in the spring season, a season of bloom and the renewal of nature, but for Rannie it proves a winter rather deadly one that snatches her “flower” Snooks from her. “It was almost spring, but the winter cold still clung to her bones and she had to almost sit in the fireplace to be warm.”


To sum up we can say that the setting of the story goes well with the theme discussed in it. The miserable plight of Rannie Toomer is aggravated by the selection and effect of the setting. Rannie, though a human being, is not only treated like an animal by the white mailman but nature also does its worse to make her helpless.

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