English 321: American Masterpieces "The Western Novel"

Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.

The Ox-Bow Incident -- Discussion Questions


1.      The author has said that he wrote this novel as a cautionary tale, a warning against foreign and native fascism.  (The novel was published on the eve of World War II, and Clark acknowledged that his "lynchers" were Nazis in spirit.)  How can The Ox-Bow Incident be read as a political text?

2.      Who is the hero of The Ox-Bow Incident?  State a case for each of the following "heroes."


Art Croft

Preacher Osgood

Judge Tyler

Art Davies




Gerald Tetley


Who is the villain of the novel?  What type of evil does each of the following manifest?


Ma Greer

Monty Smith

Major Tetley

Butch Mapes

Bill Winder


Some scholars argue that The Ox-Bow Incident is a novel without a hero or a villain; indeed, it is a novel with very few "whole" characters.  How do you respond to this criticism?  Look carefully at the physical descriptions of the characters the author provides that may suggest the characters' spiritual state.


3.      Discuss these (and others) symbols in the novel:


The boarded-up church

Judge Tyler's house

The season in which the story takes place

The storm

The mountains

The meadow lark


4.      Kenneth Andersen and other scholars have discussed the "Aristotelian nature" of The Ox-Bow Incident.  Discuss how the novel is an example of unity?   Discuss other examples of the author's style, literary conventions, and structure.







Examples of irony




5.      Clark seems to challenge certain aspects of gender construction in the novel.  While reaffirming certain aspects of "western" masculinity (for example, courage), he simultaneously undermines other aspects of masculinity.  The same charge can be made of Clark's characterization of women.  How are our notions of "femininity" undercut by the descriptions of Ma Greer, Rose Mapen, and Frena Hundel?  Take special note of how many of the characters "emasculate" the men by describing them in effeminate terms.

6.      What statements does Clark make in the novel on the American Dream, justice and law, ethics and morality, individualism and the community?

7.      List the "hysteria" conditions that existed in the novel that moved this tragedy to its horrible conclusion.  (You may want to do a bit of research of mob behaviors.)

8.      Discuss the power of discourse as it is manifested in the novel.  Why do some words work while other words fail?

9.      Choose any quote or scene from the novel that especially impressed, provoked, puzzled, or surprised you and explain why.