BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE
Summary: This is a powerful narrative and realistic
portrait of frontier life and mob violence in the American West of 1885.
First published in 1940, it is the story of the chaos that ensues when
law and order are abandoned.
When a respected rancher is killed and the sheriff is out-of-town,
townspeople form a posse. They find three strangers herding cattle with
the brand belonging to the murdered rancher. Although they say they
bought the cattle, they cannot produce a bill-of-sale and one of them
has the rancher's gun. Again there is a claim of purchase but no proof.
The posse's actions provide us with an emotionally powerful and vivid
tale dealing with the universal themes of good and evil, individual
and community, and justice and human nature.
1. From the novel's opening, narrator Art Croft seems unsure about the
rightness of joining the lynch mob, yet he does. What does this say
about Croft's character? Is his reaction typical of human nature?
2. Do any characters or situations presented in the novel alter your
ideas of how life was lived in America's "Old West"?
3. The female characters Frena, Rose and Ma Grier each represent different
examples of women's roles in the lynching. What motivates each of these
women in her actions towards the men in the mob?|
4. Are the Mexican characters, Juan and Amigo, and the African-American
character, Sparks, genuine, three-dimensional characters or are they
simply manifestations of cultural stereotypes?
5. The African-American character, Sparks, is almost saintly in his
unselfish attitude and actions, yet he is regularly and offensively
described by other characters as "the nigger" of the town
as would have been common in the 19th century West. Would it weaken
the novel to exclude use of the word "nigger"?
6. What motivates Davies to remain the voice of reason even when he
sees that his arguments are being ignored?
7. Tension is almost a tangible character throughout the novel and is
one of the catalysts that leads to the tragedy. How does tension between
8. Major Tetley's anger and disappointment towards his son motivates
him to bully his son into participating in the lynching. What does the
Major's reaction to his son's subsequent suicide say about his true
feelings for him?
9. The victims of the lynching demonstrate a variety of emotions as
they wait for dawn when they will be hanged. Do the reactions of each
character seem authentic?
10. Several times before the actual lynching occurs it seems that the
mob might disperse, yet each time they come back together. Is fear of
being called a coward the only reason?
11. Are there situations in contemporary America that might force average
people to have to make the type of ethical choice that faced the Ox-Bow
12. Two suicides occur in the aftermath of the lynching but we are given
little input as to the reactions of the other mob participants. How
do you believe the other characters will react to their horrific and
Review of The Ox-Bow Incident
Review from 1943
Questions and list of characters provided
by Chicago Public Library.