“Sequoia Gardens” by Ernest Finney Literature Analysis Essay

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Ernest Finney, in his book, Sequoia Gardens presents California in a rich and complex manner. This in a way contradicts the present California as it is, and at the same time echoes some activities which take place in California. In the stories, ‘Sequoia Gardens’, ‘Olive Princess’ and ‘Up On The Yuba’, Ernest Finney portrays California in different ways ranging from the people, the activities they do , the law governing those activities as well as people’s thinking and way of life. He takes the struggling people and mimics their way of life in the stories, representing the poor in California.

Each story is a form of its own in that, some are festive and cheerful while some are dark and savory, all these representing the poor people in California. Finney drapes the reader skillfully with each character and explores the common person and ordinary people like us. Raul, a struggling young man, is portrayed as hard working amidst all the danger and hardship. Lindsay and Gabe (Gabriel) in olive princess are seen as two different characters.

Gabe struggles to change Lindsay’s shallow thinking as he struggles with his life amidst police brutality, and attains success in the end. In the story, ‘up on the Yuba’, Hiram is a struggling miner who is hell-bent to prove to the people that he can make two cups even if others cannot. He is determined to make a lot of money despite how tiresome this is. In all the stories, struggle is a dominant theme as well as hope for success in the future.

California in Ernest Finney’s imagination

In all the three stories, Ernest Finney portrays California as full of immigrants seeking work or other things like education. In sequoia garden, there are various immigrants brought to California by Arturo to work in the drug farms including Argentinean, Armenian, Indians and even Cuban (Finney 4). In the olive princess, Finney portrays Gabe as an immigrant who moves to California and is a little different with the natives like Lindsay and her family who marvel at his deed while Lindsay copies part of his way of life.

Hiram known as Hy, a character in ‘up on the Yuba’, grew up in Illinois and moved to California to mine gold along Yuba river to make a living (Finney 260). California is portrayed by Finney in the three stories as a haven for foreigners who seek to find a better life. In the process of struggle for these poor immigrants, some give up in the process while others make it to the end. For example, Marcus, Tyler and the Indians working with Raul gave up mining gold along the Yuba River.

According to Finney, California offers many opportunities which people venture into. Such opportunities include, growing crops which are drugs in the Sequoia garden, going to school and attaining education in the olive princess (183), and mining gold along the Yuba River. The opportunities are available in California for the betterment of people’s lives. They come in different packages.

The immigrants have to struggle to earn a living unlike the natives like Lindsay’s family in the ‘Olive Princess’, who depend on the state for help like welfare check and unemployment benefits (Finney 180) given to the unemployed and the poor to aid their living. He portrays the difference between the classes available in California in the olive princess, where Lindsay says that their family never went to Christmas balls to avoid people looking at them. Lindsay even compares herself with the girls at her school, their clothes and their families.

Injustice by the authorities is portrayed in Ernest Finney’s stories. The scout or the law makers who are supposed to report against drug farming but instead extort money from the workers in order for them not to be reported (Finney 26). Instead of enforcing the law against drugs, Jack, a government agent, violates it.

Police brutality is evident in the olive princess where Gabriel is beaten up by police, who are supposed to protect the mass, just because of protecting Lindsay from an officer’s insults. Gabriel is hospitalized and false charges made against him. The charges could have landed him a thirty year jail term if he was not a minor (Finney 193). The agents of the law, expected to maintain peace and order, disrupt peace and instead of protecting Gabriel, they hurt him.

The use of firearms like guns is prominent in California as portrayed by Finney in the three stories. Arturo in the Sequoia Gardens uses a gun to scare the workers into conformity (Finney 6) just like one would use a cane to scare children. Having a gun holster is evident in the fact that Gabriel, a student, has a gun (Finney 191). The miners are always constantly fighting each other and even shoot at one another (Finney 267). According to the California created by Finney, the firearms laws are extremely lax.


California located west coast of the United States, has a Mediterranean climate with some parts further inland experiencing colder winters and hot and dry summers as explained by Finney in his three stories. He mentions incredibly cold weather and some parts as deserts. In 2010, illegal foreigners composed of 7.3 percent of the total population, totaling to up to 2.6 million. The gold rush (January 1848) in California saw many immigrants move to California, and for the first time starting 2010, the native Californians have managed to constitute the majority in the state’s population.

The gold was found in Sutter mill near the American river. Carrying and use of firearms anyhow in California is illegal unless one is licensed but not to threaten people, unlike portrayed by Finney in his stories. Police brutality is also common although it is against the law. The class division is also there in California as portrayed by Finney, and the struggle by the working class and the illegal immigrants who cannot get legal employment.


Finney in his books describes California state and the geography of Sierra. Most of his stories touch on the mountains, and they give authenticity to the people living there. Sequoia Gardens explore the ordinary person, and the kind of life people leads. Life brings sudden surprises and ghastly experiences.

These experiences move people past places, through numerous risks, towards hope for a better future, and to attain success in life. Finney explores all these facets of life in his stories, giving people a glimpse of the life led by the working class, their determination, the risks and the joy that comes with the success despite the fact that some live in uncertainty.

Work cited

Finney, Ernest. Sequoia Gardens: California Stories. USA: Southern Methodist University press. 2010. Print.

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