The Ox-Bow Incident: Character Profiles
Art Croft: Art is the first-person narrator. The novel begins with his description of his and Gil's journey into Bridger's Wells. Both men have been away for months on the winter range and have evidently fought on occasions whilst in their shack. His perspective always dominates this narrative and for this he may be considered an unreliable narrator; it is his subjective version of events that the reader is privy to. His fears of being misunderstood as an outsider are delivered in his mental asides and his main aims appear to be to fit in with the community's beliefs rather than choosing to adapt his actions for moral considerations.
Bartlett: Bartlett is one of the many men of the town who is in favor of the actions of the lynch mob and believes the law to be unfair. He helped to persuade men to join them even though many of them do not own any property. His two sons, Nate and Carl, play minor roles in the novel.
Canby: This is the owner of the saloon and is a laconic background figure. His appearance helps to set the scene when reading this as a Western novel. He is depicted as a business man and is morally ambivalent to the violence. This is evident in his reactions to the lynching in Chapter Five.
Davies: Davies is introduced as an old man trying to stop Farnley seeking revenge for Kinkaid's supposed murder. He represents the voice of reason and attempts constantly to persuade the group to desist from illegal actions. He is also the conscience of the pack and this is made transparent in Chapter Five as he confesses what he believes are his sins of omission in not stopping Tetley lynching the men and because he did not stop Gerald committing suicide.
Gerald Tetley: This character is also referred to as young Tetley. His conflict with his father dominates his characterization. His eventual suicide comes after promising to do so if the men they are hunting are killed. Gerald suffers in the turmoil of obeying his father's ghastly orders. The authority of his father is finally questioned when he kills himself. Prior to this, Gerald has been depicted as being physically incapable of violent acts and for this his father ridicules him and compares him to a woman, and beats him finally.
Gil Carter: Gil is the riding companion and work partner of the narrator, Croft. Similarly to Croft, he joins the mob in order to be part of the group, and thus to avoid looking like a (guilty) outsider. Gil's memory of being a witness to a lynching of three men is particularly evocative. It also demonstrates that although he is a party to this lynching, he is not in favor of it. He exemplifies the dangers of remaining passive (or of following orders, as was demonstrated in Germany in World War II) without making a moral stand against injustice. His desire for Rose Mapen is secondary to the main events, but is referred to occasionally. This failed relationship is a useful means to demonstrate how men such as Gil and Croft are unwilling to show their emotions with tears. Violence is, again, the preferred response.
Farnley: He is notable for his manner of bearing a grudge and is friends with Kinkaid. He is one of the main instigators of the lynch mob and is described, ironically, as a hero as he sits on his horse waiting for the other men to join him in the 'neck-tie party'.
Greene: Greene relates the news of Kinkaid's supposed murder. His pleasure in being the centre of attention is noted by Croft. It is implied that he embellishes his story at this early juncture (Chapter One) and gives a slight indication of future events - that is, that Kinkaid is not dead after all.
Hardwick: Hardwick is the oldest man of the three accused. He is described by Martin as being feeble-minded, and this was possibly brought on by the war. This is a notable point as Tetley, the leader of the pack, has decided to dress in his old army uniform for this occasion. Consequently, the traditional notion of honor attached to fighting in a war is dismantled by Tetley's treatment of this character.
Joyce: Joyce and Croft visit Judge Tyler (because Davies asks them to) and try to get him to agree to swear a posse in. Joyce is a minor character, but he is useful in voicing how the men like to have a leader as this man can then be used as a scapegoat. This comment hints at future events because after the lynching some of the men, such as Smith, prefer to blame Tetley rather than examine their own responsibilities in the murders.
Juan Martinez (also referred to as Francisco Morez) : Referred to as 'the Mex', he is treated as suspicious primarily because of his race, but also because he is in possession of Kinkaid's gun. He initially refuses to speak English to his accusers, which furthers the prejudices of the bigoted, but is regarded as brave (and therefore of worth) when he removes his own bullet after Gerald fails to do so.
Judge Tyler: He is characterized as weak in his enforcement of the law. Croft and Joyce visit him at home, on Davies' request, and although he is articulate and knowledgeable to an extent, he declines to take control of the illegal situation.
Kinkaid: His death is the driving force behind the lynch mob's actions and this is exacerbated by his strong friendship with Farnley. The fact that he has only a wound to his head emblematizes the fatal consequences of mob rule as they have decided en masse to believe rumour, and act upon it, rather than find out if the news of his death has been exaggerated or not.
Ma Grier: This is the only woman in the lynch mob and is typically masculine in her reactions and outlook. She is strongly in favor of arbitrary justice.
Mapes: Mapes is Risley's deputy and he illegally deputizes the men to form the posse.
Martin: Martin is the unofficial spokesperson of the accused men. He is honorable and, of course, innocent of the crimes he is accused of. He has only lived in the area for a few days and has a wife and children. He is a victim of prejudice, ignorance and circumstance. His obvious innocence emphasizes how heinous his treatment is. He is allowed to write a letter to his wife and this comes to represent innocence and truth because Davies is tormented by its contents.
Osgood: Osgood is the ineffectual preacher who attempts to stop the men seeking illegal justice for the rustling and murder of Kinkaid. He is described by Croft as speaking without conviction.
Risley: Risley is the sheriff and is most notable for his absence. He is accused of collusion by Tyler when he pretends he has not recognized the men after the lynching has occurred.
Rose Mapen: Rose is first referred to when Gil asks of her whereabouts in Chapter One. It is clear that he has feelings for her. Canby explains that she left the town on the first stagecoach of the spring. It is suggested by Gerald that she was driven out of town by jealous women. Since she has been away, she has married Swanson. Her voice and laughter are referred to in Chapter Five as Croft cuts back and forth from her to listening to Davies' plight.
Smith: Smith is introduced by Croft as the town bum. His ensuing behavior reinforces this early negative description. It is also possible to see his boorishness and bigotry as representative of the lynch mob's mentality. Although a caricature, his worst facets (racism and cruelty) are no different to those of the others in the pack.
Sparks: As the only African-American in the novel, the account of his brother's lynching is a reminder of this illegal form of punishment (in this case for the color of his skin) in a so-called civilized society. It is Sparks and Davies who question the rule of the mob most vehemently.
Swanson: The new husband of Rose Mapen.
Tetley: Tetley is the self-appointed leader of the lynch mob, but his orders are mostly followed without question. He typifies an authoritarian, comparatively wealthy patriarch who bears no opposition. The way in which he treats his son, Gerald is poignant and also typical of his inhumanity and attachment to a masculine value system.
Winder: When he appears, Croft describes him as rash. He is impatient with the slow process of the law and is unimpressed by the justice system. It is also demonstrated that he has little logic to his prejudices and anger when arguing with Davies about who has the right to judge others.