Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story explores male-female relationships in contemporary society. Mother and the boy embody antithetical attitudes and values, with Mr. Ormsby caught between his feelings of kinship with the boy and his subservience to Mother. Mother is clearly the ascendant figure in the household; moreover, she enjoys comparable social status as a community leader, indicating that her values reflect the prevailing values of society.

Mother stands for, among other things, decorum, control, and purity. Her values may have merit, but she pursues them in defiance of nature. Her unnaturalness is evident in the corset she wears to enforce sexual restraint, in elaborate subterfuges to cover up bodily functions, and in self-identification with the Diety. The boy, in contrast to Mother’s prudish, sterile femininity, stands for masculinity and is associated with the out-of-doors, nature, freedom, heroism, and mortality. Just as Mother denies the flesh, the boy accepts it.

Mr. Ormsby, caught between the values embodied by Mother and by the boy, yields to Mother’s power and thereby betrays his own masculinity. When the boy is killed, so is a part of Mr. Ormsby, and though it is the boy who is dead, Mr. Ormsby is not quite alive. The title, “The Ram in the Thicket,” alludes to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham, about to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to God’s commandment, is spared at the last moment by an angel sent from God and offers up instead “a ram caught in a thicket” (Genesis 22:13). Mr. Ormsby worships the goddess Mother, a mortal creature who ludicrously presumes to unnatural perfection. Despite the affection he feels, he allows his son to be driven from his home and he sacrifices his own masculinity in subservience to Mother. Unlike Abraham, he will not be the father of many nations.