Symbolic Import of H. E. Bates' "The Ox" is Immense; Story Element Thin


Analyses of  H. E. Bates' The Ox

The symbolic import of The Ox is immense, though the story element of it is rather thin. It is the hard attempt of a women for a happy hewer of her husband, and the tragic realization that what she has valued most is reduced to nothingness that virtually forms the texture of the story. But within this slender outline, the story has an important tragic overtone, “An obsession with pain,. Pain stretched to breaking point, point prolonged beyond all seeming endurance. Bates show a manly and unsentimental pity for those who suffer alone. Yet the story of such intolerable pain is strangely given the title The Ox. It is strange in this sense that the titer indicator an animal and the story have no mention of such an animal. It is clear that the titer is metaphorical. It hints at the bovine qualities of an ox present in human character, and therein lays the meaning of the title.

Mrs. Thurlow is the chief character of the story. In fact, the story is all about this woman, her ambition and her frustration. Bates has compared the relation between Mrs Thurlow and her bicycle with the relationship of ‘a beast to a cart”. Again, Mrs Thurlow has been described, with her face and body, as ‘a beast of burden’. The story teller has sufficiently indicated who the ox of the story is. It is Mrs Thurlow. Her bicycle serves as a symbol of constant drudgery, a sense of perpetual monotony from which she is never parted.


The relationship between Mrs Thurlow and her bicycle is so close and inseparable that even at moment of her acute disaster. She expresses her reluctance to give it up. Bates projects this relationship in a deeper psychological perspective to highlight the sense of monotony by which Mrs Thurlow is dogged. Even when the police men have offered to give her a life with their car, she remains stick to her bicycle. The moment her brother offers to give her a lift in his car she refused. This shows the inherent obstinacy and suborning of which Mrs Thurlow is made. Her relationship with the bicycle also reminds us of the relationship of an ox to the cart. That Mrs Thurlow has bovine loyalties, is further elaborated by showing her, attitude to her deposited money, and to her appointed task. She has saved money for her two boys. She thinks of their prosperous future and saves money with hard-labored. Money making is her is her creed. She suffers from an illusion that money alone can make a man happy that money sometimes mars human happiness is the truth altogether foreign to the nature of Mrs Thurlow she has only deposited a amount of money . But ironically enough, that money has been taken away by her husband. She has been so much engrossed with this fact of stolen money that she always thinks of it. When her husband has not been trace and shi is interviewed by police man, she is more concerned with her money than with her husband. Even in her inquiry about her husband in her brother house she speaks more of her money than of her husband. This shows that Mrs Thurlow has a tenacity to search for and get back her money, not her husband. This is an ox like attitude. When the police man comments about her husband “I’m afraid he has done something serious than taking money”. Mrs Thurlow does not express her least concern to know the all serious crime committed by her husband. Instead, she expresses her anxiety for the stolen money to the police officer. At this point one may recall the famous short story, The Rocking horse winner by D.H Lawrence. Like Mrs Thurlow , Mrs morel too desires for money, expresses her uncontrolled desire for money only to release her so-called social stales before her neighbors . Without caring for the disturbed psychology of her children, she is very often engaged in quarreling with her husband for earning more money. The entire household begins to be haunted by the echo “there must be more money, more money” this story of Lawrence comes to a close with the unnatural and premature death of Paul. But the story too ends with an unnatural separation with her two children for whom she does so much. At any rate, Mrs Thurlow has dogged sense of duty. Such singularity of purpose shows the very bovine attitude. She attends her duty in spite of all odds. “She had saved fifty four pounds. She would make it a hundred”-this is her only dream. And with this single dream she continues her daily drama, of scrapping and washing. She even works in her portly farm in her leisure, though leisure at her disposal is very little. This is her daily duty and she would never shirk of it. Even when the police man summoned her to action, she would first do her duty. This is also at ox like obstinacy. This is how Mrs Thurlow poses the singularity of purpose, stanch adherence to her bicycle and greed for money.




But Mrs Thurlow has very often been described as inert, dull, and improved as an ox. The teller has qualified her with the epithet ‘beast of burden’ which is an ox. He describes her yoking like ‘some bonny ox’ when in the field pins up her script which appears like a thick tail. Not only physically. But also emotionally her face show no impression when she reads newspaper “it remained ox like in its impassivity.” The author describes Mrs Thurlow in her bed time appearance when she represses her dress by a heavy gray night gown, her body “larger and more ponderous” like an ox. Her two boys are compared with two colts. Thus the story teller has himself insisted on the like appearance and attitude in Mrs Thurlow. The realization of Mrs Thurlow about her himself at the very end of the story may be wistful, but here too the very ox like attitude of life is also expressed. The author shows what happens to such dull, impaired-person proceeds in life with obstinacy. Of course the end is pathetic, but it is Mrs Thurlow’s own making. She has not looked at steadily and wholesomely, and it is the her blind movement very like that of an ox, has brought about the tragedy of the protagonist. Bates thinks that a man or a woman having this wrong response to life can seldom be happy. But the story teller does not say anything directly. He maintains his objectivity all-throughout and in this point Bates has much in common with another modern short story writer Ernest Hemingway. Bates aims at to present the bare essential of action and dialogue letting the reader to form the own resources more freely.


Ref: 1. A. M. Broadley: A Journey to Short Stories
2. Dr. Asima Bagchi: Interpreting Tales