Explain the title of the story The Ox by H.E.Bates

The ox is a hardy, sturdy, patient, and the painstaking beast that bears ever a heavy burden, meekly and quietly. It is in this very sense that Bates conceives the character of the heroine of his short story ‘The Ox’. The ‘ox’ of the title actually refers to her. She is actually the ox of the story.

Mrs. Thurlow, Bates’s heroine in the story, has nothing exceptional or remarkable in her nature or situation. She was all a very poor, average, aged woman whose life was one of the hard struggles and ceaseless drudgery. Her manner of living was all timid, ungrudging, and calm. Though not a beast, but a human animal, she had the living of a beast of burden, like the ox. Here she seems to have come closer to the ox of the title.

Of course, the author has not failed to show the analogue of the ox in Mrs. Thurlow’s physical features. She had a bulky, rather robust body, with her flat, heavy feet, that ‘pounded painfully’ along ‘under mud-stained skirts’. Her face and body looked unseemly with her lumpy angle of bone. In all such physical matters, she was, as the author precisely remarks, ‘a beast of burden’, an ox, so to say. Moreover, when she worked in the field, in her spare time, to plant and pick potatoes and peas, to dig for cabbages and roots, and to do the like menial labour, she pinned up her skirt on the back and that seemed to be a thick stiff, tail”. She then, in the author’s language, looked like ‘some bonny ox’. Again, she also pushed her bicycle, well loaded, and she was then ponderous, flat-footed, like an ox, that moved on heavily and slowly, perhaps, in the author’s words, in the same direction, at the same pace’. It is obvious that the story-teller has very aptly presented what was ox-like in Mrs. Thurlow, his heroine.

But the implication of the title is more evident in the nature of Mrs. Thurlow’s living and her character and conduct of life. She was extremely laborious and regular in her day-to-day occupation. Her drudgery started from the early morning-even before 5 o’clock in the morning-and she retired to her bed after eleven at night. All through those hours, she worked steadily, ceaselessly, and meticulously. Her work was menial, no doubt, to wash clothes, to iron them, to scrub and cleanse floors, and so on. She worked in four different places but was ever scrupulous in her attendance and duty. Despite the strain involved in her daily duty, she did her job punctually, seriously, and devotedly. Like the ox, she showed strictly a fidelity, rather rare, to her duty, which seemed to constitute her very existence—her breath of life.

What is more, she was as placid, as ungrudging, in her drudgery, as an ox. A beast of burden has simply to bear heavy loads, and there is nothing for it to question, but simply to carry on the burden, however hard this may be. That was the very feature of Mrs. Thurlow’s drudgery. She laboured continuously, unquestioningly, and rather selflessly. She knew that it was for her only to toil, and not to snatch rest or defy the burden of life. She had to bear hardship and pain and that she did with the temperament of an ox.

Of course, Mrs Thurlow was a rational human being, and not an irrational beast, like an ox. Bates has hinted subtly at this difference in her thought and action. She, no doubt, worked strenuously, sincerely and selflessly, but that was not all motiveless. She had a motive to save money and that was, in the story-teller’s language, ‘her creed’. She was not merely thirty but also exploited her occasional spare hours by doing more work to save more money. She wanted eagerly to raise her humble saving of fifty-four pounds, and she was ready to spare neither pain nor labour for the purpose. Again, her saving was not for her own selfish spending. It was for the future–the future of her sons, whom she wished earnestly to establish in a world beyond her own. Mrs. Thurlow here appeared to have an instinctive human craving, a little ambition, and this should not be expected from an ох.

Yet, Mrs. Thurlow had an impassivity-a sort of imperturbability in her basic nature. Nothing could deviate her–Mr. Thurlow’s disappearance, the loss of her money, or the enquiry by the police-from her duty and bicycle. Mr. Thurlow was arrested and died in the prison and her lost money could not be restored. Yet, she continued and carried on her daily drudgery sedately and stolidly, almost in the manner of an unresponsive, irrational animal, like an ox.

Indeed, the title ‘The Ox’ of his story is well-chosen by Bates. This is not merely brief but also meaningful and aptly signifies the tragic theme with which he is concerned here. This is the theme of labour, pain and endurance to the breaking point with a subtle touch of irony