The short story “The Ox” by H. E. Bates is a tragic tale of a simple humble rustic woman. Her life was one of hard and continuous, drudgery and selfless dedication to the cause of her family, particularly her two school-going sons. The story is rather a life tale of that woman whose final attainment was the unkindness of the men for whom she did so much. It was all a tragedy of sorrow and pain, stretched to the point of breaking.
Within the brief space of a short story, Bates builds this tragic tale well. The story’s well-thought-out structure reveals his literary style. He has a plan of action with various gadgets to make his disastrous account fascinating and noteworthy and brimming with anticipation all along. To begin, the narrative is broken up into five distinct sections. In those sections, the tragedy of Bates is told with almost dramatic skill. The author maintains the classical tragedy’s four major structural divisions—exposition, development, crisis, and catastrophe—with skill and balance.
Section I and the early portion of Section II constitute the exposition of this tragic story. As an exposition, Mrs. Thurlow and her family are briefly described in the opening section. Here, Mrs. Thurlow’s arduous life of labor and her work-manner analogy to an ox are well shown. Here, she also reveals her unassuming, unambitious life and her passion for saving money for her sons’ future. Last but not least, the opening section also emphasizes the vain and self-centered nature of her husband and her sons, who are careless and oblivious to their mother’s efforts. The author recounts Mrs. Thurlow’s specific relaxation of reading old newspapers every Sunday afternoon in the following section of the exposition. From there on the advancement of the narrator follows and that is with the direction of her significant other Mr. Thurlow. One day, Mr. Thurlow returned rather late in the afternoon and hurriedly left, secretly bringing his billhook with him. He returned after ten p.m. that very night, rather rough and inclement, and took a long time to wash his hands. After that, the events started to happen more quickly. Mrs. Thurlow’s hard-earned money was also lost when Mr. Thurlow vanished. The boys also noticed that the sink was covered in blood in the morning and were puzzled about the situation. Mrs. Thurlow tried to explain the situation to them in some way, but she knew that bad things could happen soon.
Then we see, how life becomes more difficult for Mrs. Thurlow. Her husband’s action was thoroughly suspicious and the loss of her money was a grave blow to her. The police came in search of Mr. Thurlow who was wanted in the matter of the disappearance of a stranger. Section III introduces further events in the development of the plot. Mr. Thurlow was accused of killing the man concerned and a warrant for his arrest was issued. Mrs. Thurlow’s lost money, however, could not be restored. Of course, she carried on her regular duty. Thereafter Mr. Thurlow was arrested and nothing positive about the lost money could be learned from him. The crisis of the tragedy is reached here. The later part of Section III and Section IV (whole) deal with Mrs. Thurlow’s decision to keep her sons under the custody of her brother, a prosperous carpenter, till the matter of Mr. Thurlow’s crime was finally settled.
The final judgement of the execution came. Mr. Thurlow was no more, but no clue of the lost money could be obtained. Yet, Mrs. Thurlow did not lose heart or hope and planned to have a new beginning. The catastrophe comes in the last section. Mrs. Thurlow went to her brother’s house to bring back her sons. But she was shocked beyond measure to hear from her sons their unwillingness to return with her. That was almost an unbearable act of ingratitude to one who had labored, suffered, and sacrificed for the sake of others her sons.
That is the end of the tragedy. Without any protest or persuasion, Mrs. Thurlow came back with her faithful bicycle. She had no more hope of interest in life. She seemed to move towards nowhere. The story does not relate to what actually happened in the end but hints at the helpless hardship of the exhausted woman to reach her destination, which was all bleak to her. Indeed, Bates’s structural device is here stylistic enough and reveals his power to build up a moving story of human suffering and pain beyond tolerance.