(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Ram in the Thicket” falls into three sections, each distinguished by the point of view assumed by the third-person narrator: In the relatively long first section, told from the point of view of Roger Ormsby, Roger awakens in the morning, prepares breakfast, and calls Violet, his wife, of whom he habitually thinks as “Mother”; in the second section, told from Mother’s point of view, she arises and dresses; in the third section, which returns to Mr. Ormsby’s point of view, the two of them eat breakfast and prepare to leave for the ceremony at which Mother will sponsor the USS Ormsby, named in honor of Virgil Ormsby, their dead son. Although the external action is slight, psychological action is dense with conflict, implication, and irony.

As the story opens, Mr. Ormsby is dreaming. He has been staring at a figure on a rise with the head of a bird; the figure is casually holding a gun, and above his extended right arm hovers an endless procession of birds. Mr. Ormsby, though his wrists are bound, reaches out to the friendly birds and with that gesture becomes free. The first thing he sees when he awakens is a photograph of his son Virgil, referred to throughout as “the boy,” standing on a rise and casually holding a gun, thus identifying the boy with the figure in the dream. The gun, which he holds as though it were a part of his body, is clearly phallic.

In his waking ruminations, Mr. Ormsby recalls having, years before, given the boy a gun “because he had never had a gun himself. . . .” The boy’s relationship to his gun was remarkably natural, but Mother disapproved. A founder of the League for Wild Life Conservation, she ironically stands against things natural. Though she is skilled in identifying birds, it is the boy who is, implicitly, identified with them as free, natural creatures. In sharp contrast to the boy’s naturalness, Mr. Ormsby recalls that “Mother had slept the first few months of their...

(The entire section is 803 words.)