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READERS GUIDE

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Many consider The Ox-Bow Incident to be the first serious Western novel in American literature, and Clark’s novel wholly overturns many of the conventions of the typical Western or "cowboy story" (in which conceits like shoot-outs, the triumph of good over evil, and the figure of the cowboy hero tend to loom large). Discuss the ways in which Clark transforms stereotypes about the West.

2. How do you understand the events leading up to the novel’s culminating moment, the lynching? What are the causes of the lynching as these unfold throughout the work? Is the train of events Clark delineates anywhere reversible?

3. Discuss the frontier society described by Clark. What impressions do you glean of the way life was lived on the frontier? What seem to be some of the distinguishing features of frontier life? Are there aspects of life on the frontier that came as a surprise to you?

4. The mob, and ideas about mob violence, figure centrally in the novel. What, for Clark, is the mob?

5. Discuss the importance of the physical environment for Clark: landscape, weather, the way land is experienced. How does Clark put the physical elements to work in his book? How important are these to his story and to the novel’s overall effect?

6. Clifton Fadiman called The Ox-Bow Incident "a mature, unpitying examination of what causes men to love violence and to transgress justice." Discuss what seem to you to be the causes of violence and transgression in Clark’s treatment of these themes.

7. While his novel takes place in the West, Clark’s ultimate subject, according to Wallace Stegner and others, is nothing less than civilization itself. In what ways, allegorical or otherwise, does The Ox-Bow Incident say things about civilization writ large, in your view?

 
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