Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Bridger’s Wells

Bridger’s Wells. Nevada town in which most of the novel’s characters live or do business. Two cowboys, Croft and Gil, ride into this town after spending the winter in solitude on the range. While in town, rumors quickly spread that a local cattleman has been murdered and his cattle have been stolen.

The town scenes are important for several reasons. First, this is the place of civilization. In contrast to the open range country, the town, with its churches, businesses, and legal authorities, represented by Sheriff Mapes and Judge Tyler, all suggest a civilization where moral and ethical judgment is presumed. Second, in the town scenes, Clark is able to introduce a large number of characters who either live in Bridger’s Wells or who are present to do business. These characters all have an economic interest in the town. They are rightly concerned about cattle rustling and murder, and they are eager to make sure evil is punished so that their status will be protected. Third, in front of the saloon, these various characters gather to hear and respond to the announcement of murder and cattle rustling. This is a natural setting where readers can readily see the range of emotional speeches and futile attempts at reason provoked by the announcement.

Finally, after the tragic miscarriage of justice occurs, most of the riders return to Bridger’s Wells. Readers see various responses to the deed, including...

(The entire section is 536 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Andersen, Kenneth. “Form in Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s The Ox-Bow Incident.” Western Review 6 (Spring, 1969): 19-25. Discusses literary devices Clark uses to give The Ox-Bow Incident its “clean, ordered, classical” structure. Analyzes the novel’s proportions, dramatic sequencing of events, unified tone, and use of irony, nature imagery, and contrasting sounds.

Bates, Barclay W. “Clark’s Man for All Seasons: The Achievement of Wholeness in The Ox-Bow Incident.” Western American Literature 3 (Spring, 1968): 37-49. Finds a serious flaw in every character in The Ox-Bow Incident except Swanson, Rose Mapen’s husband, who alone is free, guiltless, rational, eloquent, and in control.

Laird, Charlton, ed. Walter Van Tilburg Clark: Critiques. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1983. A collection of original material by Clark and evaluations of his work by several critics, most notably Wallace Stegner (on “Clark’s Frontier”) and Robert B. Heilman (on justice, male camaraderie, communities in opposition, and artistic techniques in The Ox-Bow Incident).

Lee, L. L. Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1973. Regards The Ox-Bow Incident as more than an anti-Western novel. Analyzes ambiguities and compares and contrasts major characters in The Ox-Bow Incident and their complex responses to physical and moral courage, the limits of nature as a force for good, and justice.

Westbrook, Max. Walter Van Tilburg Clark. New York: Twayne, 1969. Analyzes The Ox-Bow Incident not as an antilynching novel but as a tragedy of those who willingly alienate themselves from the “grace of archetypal reality.”