This novel, like others by D. H. Lawrence, focuses on the relationships of three characters and the kind of triangle of love and hatred that they form together. The two female characters are Nellie March and Jill Banford, who live together and work together on Bailey Farm, struggling to make ends meet. Out of these two women, Nellie is clearly the more masculine. As they live together, their chickens are plagued by the nightly visits of a fox. Nellie tries to shoot him but the eyes of the fox transfix her and she is unable to shoot. The fox is used in the novel as a symbol of male energy, and comes to dominate Nellie's dreams in a way that both fills her with revulsion but also attracts her.
At this stage in the novel, Henry Grenfel, a soldier on leave, returns to the farm which his grandfather formerly owned. He is a character who symbolises the masculine energy of the fox and is characterised by boyish charm and energy. The way that he is introduced and forms something of a psychological triangle between the three characters is at the heart of this novel, particularly in the way that he chooses to court Nellie and the subsequent conflict that this creates with Jill.