The Ox-Bow Incident: Metaphor Analysis
The journey to find the rustlers occurs as night approaches. The use of darkness is an apt invocation of natural imagery to evoke the secrecy that is thought necessary to form a lynch mob. The illegality of the act is heightened by the fear of being recognized, as when Croft is rebuked for showing the lighted tip of his cigarette. The dark is also representative of the negative aspect of so-called civilized life that this novel interrogates. This is because of the traditional associations that attach purity to white and evil to black. Clark depends on these know links to reinforce the sinfulness of the lynch mob's actions.
Although the lynch mob is a self-evident literal concept which is the driving force of the narrative, the mob may also be understood in allegorical terms (as Wallace Stegner understands this novel). The characterization of the mob is not only a form of criticism of the frontier society in the United States, it also symbolises the corruption and weakness embedded in communities. This novel undermines the notion that a community is bonded with neighborly sentiment. This group of people symbolize the misanthropy, rather than humanity, of civilization.
Before his murder, Martin is allowed to write a letter to his wife. This letter is also a figurative symbol of how the truth can be denied. The innocence of the men (Martin, Hardwick and Juan 'the Mex') is shied away from in favor of action. Similarly, the majority of the group involved with the lynching choose not to read the letter. The letter, therefore, represents both innocence and the truth; the lack of honesty in those who do not want to read it, or do and deny the 'evidence', is made all the more distinct.
In Chapter Five, Croft describes Davies as becoming obsessed by the letter and, symbolically, this enhances Davies as one of the few who believes in fairness and justice. Davies' sense of guilt in this section, especially when viewed in relation to Croft's reticence, is also a signifier of his humanity.