The Ox-Bow Incident Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The Ox-Bow Incident: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. "Most of the men who came in were riders and men we knew. I thought they looked at Gil and me curiously and longer than usual, but probably that wasn't so." (p. 17)

    This reference is an early indicator of the self-reflective paranoia of the narrator, and of the other men in the saloon. This mood has come about because of the news that cattle have been rustled.
  2. "Things didn't seem any different than usual, and yet there was a difference underneath. For one thing, nobody, no matter how genially, was calling his neighbour an old horse thief, or a greaser, or a card sharp, or a liar, or anything that had moral implications." (p. 17)

    This demonstrates the alteration in the men as they take care not to imply that one or the other is guilty of the unmentioned crime of rustling. This sets the tone of future discussions and arguments as the men are careful not to appear guilty.
  3. "Most men are more afraid of being thought cowards than of anything else, and a lot more afraid of being thought physical cowards than moral ones." (p. 62).

    Here, the narrator exemplifies the driving force of the lynch mob and the ultimate reason that innocent men were found guilty and punished. This reference undermines the traditional notion of masculinity, which is rewarded for bravery and criticized for cowardice.
  4. "You can't go hunting men like coyotes after rabbits and not feel anything about it. Not without being like any other animal. The worst animal." (p. 110)

    Gerald, who is also referred to as young Tetley, is telling the narrator of his abhorrence of this proposed hunting and lynching of men.
  5. 'They wouldn't lynch him without knowing,' I said. He thought for a while before he answered that. 'They made him confess,' he admitted. 'But they would have anyhow,' he protested. 'It wouldn't have done him any good not to, and confessin' made it shortah.'" (p. 132)

    Sparks, the only African-American character in the novel, explains to the narrator how his brother was lynched for a crime he did not commit. The summary justice that this novel engages with extends to the historical truth of racist-inspired violence and murder in the United States. The novel draws parallels with these men hunting for Kinkaid's supposed murderer and those who killed Sparks' innocent brother.
  6. "It was as if he believed he could solve the whole question of their guilt or innocence by just looking at them and thinking his own thoughts; the occupation pleased him." (p. 164)

    The narrator describes Tetley assuming authority over both the mob and the men about to be lynched.
  7. "The old man and the Mex were dead at the fall, and just swung and spun slowly. But young Tetley didn't cut. His horse just walked out from under, letting Martin slide off and dangle, choking to death, squirming up and down like an impaled worm, his face bursting with compressed blood. Gerald didn't move even then, but stood there shaking all over and looking up at Martin fighting the rope." (p. 207)

    This graphic description not only serves to illustrate the physical effects of lynching, but also the impossible position that Gerald is placed in by his father, Tetley. Gerald's desire to avoid hurting Martin has the unfortunate effect of making Martin suffer all the more.
  8. "Passionate and womanish, but with a man's conscience and pride, that boy kept himself thin and bleached just thinking and feeling." (p. 209)

    The narrator's allusions to Gerald being womanish (feminine) in a negative sense, and masculine in terms of conscience and pride, demonstrate how this novel both interrogates and accepts values associated with gender stereotyping.
  9. "'I knew those men were innocent. I knew it as surely as I do now. And I knew Tetley could be stopped. I knew in that moment you were all ready to be turned. And I was glad I didn't have a gun.'" (p. 233)

    This speech by Davies, which is delivered to the narrator in Chapter Five when they are back in Bridger's Wells, highlight Davies' inner turmoil at not using violence. This chapter is dominated by Davies' sense of guilt for not doing more to stop the lynching, even though he was the strongest in trying to dissuade the mob from their actions.
  10. "Tink-tink-a-link went the meadow lark. And then another one, even farther off, teenk-teenk-a-leenk." (p. 241)

    As the novel comes to a close, and just prior to Gil and the narrator agreeing that they will be glad to be out of this town, the narrator refers to these sounds of nature. The birdsong is juxtaposed with the previous horrific events that led to the murder of innocent men. The sounds of nature may be seen as representing a more civilized way of life; more civilized than the behavior of the mob.


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