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Mrs. Thurlow in H.E. Bates's short story The Ox is indeed a realistic representation of the limits of human endurance at the face of extreme suffering. It is exemplary and yet not unrealistic so as to suspend our belief. She is a stoical and uncomplaining fighter in the difficult course of life, performer of absolutely selfless actions, up against the world with an eccentric husband who is practically of no help and two children who have no love for her whatsoever, as the end of the story suggests.
She is like Sisyphus carrying the burden of her existence in an endless punishment where one still has to go on. Her sole companion in this journey is her rusty old bicycle. She has created around her the safety valve of indifference, unfeeling and emotionless impassivity which helps her move on in life. She is only human in the crafting of this instinctualist defence mechanism.
In the final moment of the story with her husband dead and her two sons having abandoned her, when she tries to move towards the remote hilltop house with a punctured bicycle up against the mud, it looks as if she has finally come to her breaking point. But the story is suspended into an open-endedness, keeping her quest unfinished.
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