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Last Updated on October 19, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 784

The story opens in a strange dream state as Mrs. May watches a bull devour her belongings: her house, her barn, her sons, and even herself.  She is relieved upon waking up and realizing that the odd scenario she found herself in was merely a dream. The relief is short-lived, however, as she soon discovers her dream was inspired by the sound of an actual bull eagerly chewing the hedge beneath her bedroom window. Much chagrined, Mrs. May complains to herself, and her angry muttering provides the reader with the necessary context of her life. 

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Readers learn that Mrs. May indeed owns a dairy farm, where she lives with her two adult sons, Scofield and Wesley, and that she is perpetually at odds with her hired help, Mr. Greenleaf. She continues to employ him despite her distaste for him because she feels that he is the best she can find, given the circumstances. Mr. Greenleaf has two adult sons himself, a pair of twins named O.T. and E.T., and Mrs. May’s conflict with Mr. Greenleaf stems from her jealousy over the comparable success and happiness of his sons. O.T. and E.T. are energetic, industrious, and polite young men. They are successful military men who served as sergeants during the Second World War, married French wives from good families, earned their agricultural degrees, and own lucrative businesses; her sons are quite the opposite. 

Privately, Mrs. May is disappointed in her sons. Neither are married; both seem disinclined to make better lives for themselves. Wesley is sickly, suffers from rheumatic fever, and has a teaching job, but Mrs. May feels that this position is beneath him and pretends to others that he is an intellectual. Meanwhile, her other son, Scofield, is a robust insurance salesman who once served in the army. However, he only managed to reach the rank of Private First Class. Now, he sells the kind of insurance that's only popular with African-American customers. Mrs. May is ashamed of his line of work and worries that neither of her sons will make good matches. She truly believes that they will marry women of disreputable character after she dies, and this thought greatly upsets her

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Mrs. May’s life seems full of jealousy and dissatisfaction, as she envies Mr. Greenleaf, his wife, and their sons. She believes that they have few worries to trouble them in life, while she has to struggle to make ends meet. The bull outside of her window only further proves her point. She considers making a complaint to Mr. Greenleaf but decides not to, as she thinks he will make rude comments about Scofield and Wesley's disinterest in helping her with their farm. The next day, she learns that the bull belongs to Mr. Greenleaf’s sons and is notorious for escaping his pen and causing a ruckus. She worries that the bull’s presence might complicate the breeding schedule of her prized cattle, so she demands that Mr. Greenleaf pens it. At home, Wesley and Scofield poke fun at their mother's predicament.

The bull continues to torment her and disrupt the farm, but Mrs. May is comforted by the prospect of hurting O.T. and E.T. She confronts Mr. Greenleaf and gives him an ultimatum. If his sons do not retrieve their bull, she will force him to shoot the animal and end the problem once and for all. Revenge proves elusive, however, as Mrs. May soon discovers that neither of the Greenleaf twins is bothered by the idea of their father killing the bull. In fact, they favor the idea. After all, it has done plenty of damage to the Greenleaf farm. In short, she would be doing them a favor by shooting the bull. Mrs. May is outraged that she must bear the damage to her farm and the complications involved in killing the bull.

Eventually, Mrs. May orders Mr. Greenleaf to shoot the bull. They drive out into the pasture, and Mr. Greenleaf searches for the animal. In the meantime, Mrs. May sits on the bumper of the truck. She slips into a daydream and becomes distracted, so she doesn’t notice the bull charging at her until it is too late. Stunned by the sight, she fails to react. It is as if she is entranced by the enraged animal heading her way, and she stares incredulously without moving. Helpless to anything but stare, Mrs. May is gored through the heart, leaving her badly injured. Too late, Mr. Greenleaf appears and shoots the bull, but the damage is done. Readers are led to think that her injuries are fatal, but O’Connor leaves the fate of Mrs. May unconfirmed.

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