The Ox-Bow Incident By Walter Van Tilburg Clark Character Analysis Art Davies

Art Davies is the most admirable character in the novel, and thus his tragic end is the most difficult to accept. We are angry about the hanging of Martin arid Hardwicke and we are vindicated by Major Tetley's suicide, and though Davies is still alive at the book's end, he is destroyed. And that destruction is the most bothersome and puzzling aspect of the book.

After all, Davies did much. He tried to persuade Art Gil and Winder that formal justice is always necessary, even if an occasional outlaw escapes. He sends to the Judge's house for Risley to come and organize the posse. He tries as hard as he can (it seems) to use Martin's letter as evidence to forestall the hanging. Now that it is over, it is Davies who says, "I killed those three men." Everyone knows what "kill" means, and we certainly don't think it accurately describes Davies' action

Davies' willingness to assume guilt is based on two premises. One is that, when the test came, he lacked a quality that even animals have that is, the courage to undertake a necessary action. Early in the book, Croft distinguished between moral courage and physical courage asserting that moral courage is the rarer commodity. Davies demonstrates moral courage in abundance; he is the only character who does. But the more abundant quality — physical courage — Davies says he lacks. Yet this is only part of the reason for his assumption of guilt in the lynching. The second cause of his guilt is the way he felt when he came to recognize the lack of courage in himself. He says that he was glad not to have a gun; thus he indicts himself.

Clark spends many pages exploring Davies' guilt Like the members of the posse, we are willing to blame Tetley; after all, it was he who did it Davies' point is that the people who did nothing are equally guilty, perhaps more guilty. Davies was offered a gun at the entrance to the Ox-Bow; his refusal of it seemed to him to fit his role at the time — that is, he was a Christlike representative of justice. The situation, however, did not need a Christ; it needed a man willing to assert enough force to prevent the injustice which was about to take place. In a society young enough and new enough for guns to be the medium of communication, both parties of the situation need to have guns in case verbal communication breaks down.

Yet Davies is ultimately admirable. He has confronted his guilt and has recognized it. Every character in the novel lacks an essential quality which will cause him to take correct action. Only Davies can face that fact. Art and Gil will simply be glad to get out of Bridger's Wells. Art Davies will stay, an image of a proper ethic too weakly pursued.

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