The Ox-Bow Incident: Novel Summary: Chapter Three
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There are 28 in the group and the chapter begins with them riding off on their hunt for the rustlers and the murderer of Kinkaid. Initially, Davies is at the back with Croft. A storm is coming and it is beginning to get dark.
Croft then rides with Gerald, who unburdens himself. Gerald's disgust at this 'hunt' is related as he states that what they are doing is behaving like 'the worst animal', and 'bullies of the globe'. He also criticizes women for gossiping and driving other women out, and says that men are even worse as he reiterates that they act like bullies. He makes repeated references to packs and to how men dare not reveal their feelings in case this separates them from the others. Croft is uncomfortable with Gerald 'pouring out his insides without shame', which explains the position of Croft - that he is also one of the pack. Gerald describes himself as weak for coming along and says that he will commit suicide if the men are caught and killed.
It is explained that Gil is uneasy about performing this search in the dark as people can become nervous and shoot at anything. He also likes to pick his own leader. A story is then told about Farnley, which explains how he even bears grudges against animals.
There is then the first mention of Ox-Bow as Gil thinks this must be where the rustlers are as there is nowhere else to move 40 cattle off the track. Ox-Bow is a little valley 'up in the heart of the range'; there is only one way in and out for men driving cattle. A blizzard is approaching, but Tetley wants to continue although some others do not.
Sparks and Croft talk together and Sparks explains how he witnessed the lynching of his brother. Croft's ignorance and naivety is revealed when he presumes Sparks' brother would not have been lynched if he had not committed the crime. Sparks explains that the mob who killed his brother insisted on a confession and that this was forced, but at least the confession made the murder shorter.
It is fully dark now and Croft's cigarette draws criticism from some of the men as the light from it shows where they are. At first, Croft is afraid of the confrontation, but is less concerned when he notices other men are also smoking.
A stagecoach appears and Croft is accidentally shot. Rose Mapen, her new husband, Swanson, and his sister are the travellers. Croft passes out from his gunshot wound and is annoyed with himself for appearing to be less than masculine. The other men pretend they have not seen 'any weakness'. Davies, Rose and Winder suggest Croft returns to Canby's in the stagecoach, but he insists he is alright. At the end of Ox-Bow valley a fire is visible and the bellowing of steer can be heard. Croft makes a passing reference to the Flying Dutchman, and wonders 'if that was the way we were getting'. Tetley gives the orders to move on, and says the men on the stagecoach were mistaken when they said the men were five miles away. He also tells the group to hold their fire unless the wanted men try to break through. They are divided into four smaller groups and Davies and Sparks choose not to take a gun. Tetley then warns them all again to avoid shooting unless it is absolutely necessary. Croft is with Tetley's men and the chapter ends with Tetley wishing them all good luck.
The fear of not being seen as part of the 'pack', as Gerald describes male conformity, is highlighted not only by Gerald's speech on the subject, but also by Croft's reaction to fainting after being accidentally shot. Croft's fear of being perceived as weak, by other men and women, determines his embarrassment and stubborn desire to continue. His masculinity is threatened by his reaction as he tries to 'save face'. His fellow travellers look away to spare his sense of shame at revealing he has felt pain and this instance demonstrates, therefore, how this novel understands the value placed on behaving as a masculine man should.
This prescribed value of masculinity, of being brave and repressing emotions, is questioned with the use of Gerald. His opposite is represented by his father, Tetley, who disavows feminine characteristics in men. Tetley's bigotry is shared to lesser degrees by the other men and this also includes Croft (whose perspective the reader is forced to share).
Croft's naivety is exposed to some extent in this chapter. His desire to remain trapped in his uncomfortable, and painful, gender role is understandable in the context of the novel. This is because it is safer to behave like the other animals in the pack, or like a masculine man in a patriarchal society, than stand against the dominant ideology. It is when Sparks discusses the lynching of his brother that Croft displays a remarkable naivety about the lynching of an African-American man in late 19th century America. It is also possible to read this instance as Clark using Croft as an everyman type of figure, so that the reader has to negotiate the unpalatable truth of random violence in frontier society and in the endemic racism that has its history in slavery. By using Croft as the narrator, the reader is necessarily seeing the events from his perspective. When he assumes Sparks' brother must have committed a crime, as many who choose to remain blind to injustice do, Croft and the reader are informed with certainty that the lynching process does not involve fairness or legality.
This chapter is also significant for heightening the tension as the next one revolves around the capture and lynching of the men in Ox-Bow valley. This tension is brought about with the constant references to how dark it is and to the freezing temperature and snow. Nature is drawn upon to evoke the fear and confusion of the hunters and, later, the hunted. The dark symbolizes the lynch mob's desire for secrecy and also represents their illegality. This chapter is also significant in that a reference to the title is first made here. Ox-Bow, we are informed at last, is the valley where the wanted men are presumed to be.