Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 803
“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 marriage in her corset—as a precaution and as an aid to self-control.” As he dresses and shaves, Mr. Ormsby thinks of Mother’s obsessive neatness, which has made the house barely habitable. When the boy was young, the house was redecorated and Mother covered everything with newspaper, at which time Mr. Ormsby began having his pipe in the basement, and the boy took to the outdoors.
After tiptoeing downstairs, Mr. Ormsby begins preparing breakfast, but, when he feels a stirring in the bowels, he retires to his basement toilet, a quiet dark place that gives him the privacy he wants. Once, when the boy accidentally discovered him on the stool and said “et tu, Brutus,” they laughed until their sides ached, and he felt closer to the boy than at any other time in his life. Upstairs, continuing to prepare breakfast, Mr. Ormsby is diverted again, this time by a stench from the jars of leftovers in the refrigerator that Mother will not allow him to throw away. When the boy was quite young, he went into the living room filled with Mother’s guests and displayed something in a jar. Mother, suspecting a frog or something of the sort, was horrified, but after the boy announced that it had come from the icebox, she never forgave him. The moldy food is one of many images of ugliness beneath a pleasing surface, suggesting the falsity of the Ormsbys’ lives and the repressions that fill their subconscious minds. Breakfast almost prepared, Mr. Ormsby calls, like an invocation, “Ohhh Mother!”
The second and much briefer section of the story shifts to Mother’s point of view. She rises like a goddess, but comic incongruities undercut her grandiose pretensions: After having groped about for her corset and wriggled into it in the dark, she intones “Fiat lux” as she turns on the light. In the locked bathroom, she turns on the water before she sits on the stool and, when she is finished, simulates a shower, including a dampened shower cap, to cover up the flush of the toilet. Since Mr. Ormsby, as the reader has already learned, is acutely aware of her subterfuges, she ironically dramatizes what she intends to cover up.
The concluding section returns to Mr. Ormsby’s point of view. In the course of breakfast, he timidly ventures an opinion. Mother at first ignores him, but, when he dares to repeat it, her mustache begins to show, and he knows that she is angry. Saying that he can go to the ceremony without her, Mother leaves him in helpless torment, but she relents. Despite her personal feelings, she explains, she has responsibilities and cannot, like some people, simply act as she pleases, which, of course, is exactly what she is doing.
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