In The Fox by D. H. Lawrence, what is the theme of the story, and what does the fox symbolize?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gender politics and the subordination of female aspirations to the animalistic desires of men are definitely themes in D. H. Lawrence's novella The Fox. Set on a farm in rural England, Lawrence's story is about the pernicious influence of men on the kinder, more innocent women who populate his narrative. Lawrence's story, written in the years immediately following the First World War and published in 1923, is both ahead of its time in its depiction of two women—one, March, characterized by somewhat masculine physical and intellectual traits—living together on their own and, simultaneously, a product of its time with its emphasis on the women's failure to dominate larger animals and to procreate. Note, for example, the author's description of his protagonists in the following passage from early in The Fox:

"March had set up her carpenter’s bench at the end of the open shed. Here she worked, making coops and doors and other appurtenances. The fowls were housed in the bigger building, which had served as barn and cow-shed in old days. They had a beautiful home, and should have been perfectly content. Indeed, they looked well enough. But the girls were disgusted at their tendency to strange illnesses, at their exacting way of life, and at their refusal, obstinate refusal to lay eggs."

That is an interesting passage. It references the birds, basically, chickens, that the two women raise, but the reference to laying eggs is associated not with the fowl, but with March and Banford. Clearly, Lawrence was making a statement with regard to his female characters' struggle to reconcile traditional notions of gender and sexuality with the biological realities that existed.

It is in this context that the reader can examine the significance of the elusive fox that repeatedly foils the women's efforts at effecting its capture and/or destruction. Foxes are known, especially in literature, for their cleverness and guile. The title of this story, however, refers not to the mischievous animal, but to the young man who enters the women's lives. Henry is the fox in this story. It is Henry who cleverly insinuates himself into the lives of these women and effects their eventual destruction, especially the destruction of March, who literally dies due to Henry's actions.

That Lawrence intended the fox to act as a metaphor for men, particularly for the character of Henry, is beyond doubt. The author was not very subtle, as the following passage, which occurs in the context of Henry's manipulation of the women with respect to his living arrangement, illustrates:

"March felt the same sly, taunting, knowing spark leap out of his eyes, as he turned his head aside, and fall into her soul, as it had fallen from the dark eyes of the fox."

And, again, within the same context:

"March felt the same sly, taunting, knowing spark leap out of his eyes, as he turned his head aside, and fall into her soul, as it had fallen from the dark eyes of the fox."

Note the use of adjectives such as "sly" and "taunting" when describing Henry's demeanor. And, of course, the reference to the "dark eyes of the fox" in further describing the cunning young man whom they have too cavalierly allowed into their home and into their lives. Lawrence is very clearly drawing a parallel between foxes and men, and it is the women who pay the price. The fox symbolizes man, and the tragedy that befalls March and the melancholy destiny to which Banford resigns herself are an indictment of the influence of one gender on the other.

bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of this story is the danger of using coercion to get someone to submit to one's will. From the time Henry arrives, he manipulates Nellie and her relationship with Jill. On the surface, he appears harmless, but beneath, he is like the fox, a cunning predator. Henry masterminds Jill's death right in front of Nellie and Jill's father, knowing that neither of them will be able to hold him responsible for Jill's death. Getting rid of Jill is essential to Henry's devious plan to overpower Nellie. Nellie submits to Henry because she feels she has no other option, and this is where the danger lies. Henry has taken away Nellie's free will, and even though Nellie agrees to go to Canada with Henry, her heart is not in it. Henry has manipulated the whole situation, and Nellie is going to resent him for it.

The fox symbolizes male domination of women. Nellie is unable to shoot the fox when she does catch up with it because she is mesmerized by his "demon eyes". Nellie is unble to control the fox's destructive behavior just as she cannot control Henry's.

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The Fox

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