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Comment on Bates's use of symbolism in his short story 'The  Ox'.

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debasmitamondal | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:31 PM via web

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Comment on Bates's use of symbolism in his short story 'The  Ox'.

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kc4u | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:57 PM (Answer #1)

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The central symbolism in Bates's story is implicit in the analogy between Mrs. Thurlow and the ox. Right from the title itself to all the details like her 'lumbering' movement, her bi-cycle as the cart, her upturned skirt as the bony tail of the ox, the story develops this symbolism. Mrs. Thurlow's impassivity, her apparently thoughtless resignation and her silent and selfless fortitude are the complex ways her character differs from an ox. She merely uses that instinctive and blank mind as a defence mechanism in situations of acute adversity where her husband is of no help and her children, for whom she does everything, do not care for her.

The bi-cycle is another symbol of sole companionship for her. She dreams about it and cannot walk without it. The bi-cycle is an object that externalizes the sway of emotions that lie suppressed in her.

Mr. Thurlow's silver plate in the head is another sad emblem of a lost selfhood and it is the assertion of its material value that creates the self-sustaining fantasy for him. His last image in the story in that oversize shirt beautifully symbolizes her flight.

The location of Mrs. Thurlow's house and the movement of seasons and also the moment when she feels great psychic disintegration in the police van, sans her bi-cycle and finally the last scene where all alone, she has serious doubts about making it to her hilltop house as there is an irreparable puncture in the back-tyre of her bi-cycle are all symbolic of a symbolic image of the human condition of gloom, despair and suffering where someone like Mrs. Thurlow symbolizes a Sisyphus-like existentialist fortitude and stoicism which makes her go on amid all the misery.

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