D.H. Lawrence’s The Fox
The Fox, by D.H. Lawrence is a short novel. Based during the time of World War I, it revolves around Nellie March and Jill Banford, two girls in their late twenties. They reside on the Bailey farm in the Berkshire district of England, perform their own tasks and tend to their own needs. During those times, to be above twenty and remain unmarried was considered shocking. Nonetheless, the girls have no intention of entering wedlock and do not feel the need for a man to do their jobs.
March is defined to be quite masculine in form, but her facial features are womanly and sensitive. Banford, on the other hand, is the antithesis of March. She is feeble and thin and cannot undertake any of the manly tasks that March does. She is the one that executes a woman’s duties. Their everyday lives are disrupted first by the entry of Henry, who has just returned after fighting the war. He is smitten by March and wishes to marry her, much against Banford’s displease; and secondly, by a fox that plunders their farm and kills their chicken.
This work by D.H. Lawrence abounds with the notion of desire and sexual yearning. Many a times the reader will sense the sexual tension between each of the characters of the story. The first instance of the element of desire is represented by March and Banford. Although it is never explicitly mentioned whether or not they shared a relationship that was anything more than platonic, one cannot help but wonder at the various implications of the same within the text. The girls slept on the same bed, albeit this was a common occurrence during those times. Owing to the reason that the men were busy fighting the war, women often found comfort in each other and indulged in physical touching and cuddling. It is quite possible that March and Banford chose to satiate their physical needs through each other’s aid.
The tension between Banford and Henry also serves to elucidate Banford’s desire for March. Banford detests Henry and the fact that he wishes to marry March. She is greatly dependent on March and is incompetent to lead her life without the latter. This reliance of Branford’s on March endows the story with the aspect of a love-triangle wherein two persons are battling for the affection and companionship of one another. The jealousy and resentment demonstrated by these characters further explicates the component of desire in The Fox. It is not a tale of pure love and dedication, but one of envy, sensuality and raw sexual desire.
The desire between Henry and March cannot be refuted. It is stated, “March, already under the influence of his strange, soft, modulated voice, stared at him spellbound”. And Henry in return is so besotted with March that he proposes to her, after having known her for only two days. The use of words such as “vulnerable” and “accessible” to describe March alludes to the sexual desire that Henry might be feeling. However, he does not simply wish to make love to March. His sentiments are not merely physical, but those of true and honest love. When Henry perceives her for the first time in a dress, and without the farm clothes she was usually attired in, Henry’s desire is further augmented. He is wary of making love as “it is a kind of darkness he knew he would enter finally”, but his sexual longing at seeing the feminine side of March is unmistakable. Lawrence further expounds the desire that Henry possesses for March through the following lines, “He wanted her to give herself without defences, to sink and become submerged in him. — He wanted her to commit herself to him, and to put her independent spirit to sleep”.
The most powerful symbol of desire in the story however, is the fox. It is stated, in no uncertain terms that the fox is male as the author refers to it as “he”. The fox signifies a male-oriented sexual ardor. March “was possessed by him” and the fox “came over her like a spell.” To her the fox represents the presence of a male figure in her life that she had perhaps been longing for. She even compares Henry to the fox. She considers his “snout of a nose”. Not only his appearance, but his temperament too is relative to that of the fox. He is fierce, imprudent and inexorable, much like the fox. The fox is used to characterise the tensions and desires developing within the people.
The notion of desire can be related to the notion of the unconscious in The Fox. March’s unconscious desire for Henry is manifested in the form of her dreams. She dreams of the fox singing and calling out to her. She wants to touch the fox (which represents Henry) but, the fox bites her and whips her face with his tail, which seems to on fire. This embodies March’s fear that Henry will reject her. Her second dream involves the death of Banford, and March uses the fox’s skin to cover her lifeless body. This dream perhaps symbolises March’s desire to replace Banford with Henry.
These dreams are revelations of March’s inner subconscious. The story also examines other psychoanalytical aspects of the human nature, such as the complexity of female personalities, homosexuality and hysteria. These psychoanalytical theories relate to high degree to theories developed by Sigmund Freud. The interpretation of dreams and the role of the subconscious and the unconscious were important concepts expounded by Freud, along with hysteria and other complexes possessed by women. All these concepts are alluded to in the story.
The reader will also discover a subtle hint of the Oedipal Complex theory of Sigmund Freud in this work. The Oedipal Complex is a complex wherein a child harbours the desire, mainly sexual, for the parent of the opposite sex and wishes to get rid of the parent of the same sex. In The Fox, although it does not quite involve parents, there is an element of the Oedipal Complex. Henry can be regarded to be in love with one individual and want to dispose of the other. He is deeply in love with March, but Banford stands as an impediment to their union. Finally, one day, while they are cutting a tree, Henry sees an opportunity and drops the tree upon Banford, instantly killing her. He stands there, insensitively pondering over “the wild goose he has shot.” He succeeds in his purpose and marries March, quite like Oedipus had succeeded in killing his father and marrying his mother.
The complexity of March’s character, highlighted lucidly at the end, is another psychoanalytical aspect delved into by Lawrence. She has the man she wanted, yet she fails to be happy. She feels “emptiness”, “An agony, and insanity at last.” This clearly elucidates her perplexed mental status.
Lawrence has also explored various social aspects in this work of his. He has examined such features as the association between man and nature, culture, morality and most importantly he has inspected the element of gender divisions in society. The animals (including the fox, the heifer and the chicken), the setting of the novel (a farm) and the general way of life of the characters explain the connection that man has with nature. The choices adopted by the characters reveal their moral standards. For instance, March’s refusal to marry Henry so she would not have to abandon Banford reveals her integrity, while on the other hand, Henry’s choice of killing Banford exposes his lack of it.
Lawrence has often ventured to explore gender issues and the role of each sex through his works. The Fox is one of his works that contains elements of gender divisions and the responsibilities to be carried out by each sex. First, the depiction of March as a masculine figure with the strength to perform arduous and manly tasks places her in contrast to her companion, Banford who happens to be a fragile and womanly character. One might argue that March is the “man of the house” and is responsible for carrying out the jobs of a man. Banford, on the other hand, is the female counterpart in charge of the womanly duties. Together they form a household. Through this representation, Lawrence has explicated the delineation between the roles of the two genders as well as their relationship to each other.
One of the instances where the reader will discern the sentiment of gender inequality and a superior attitude of man, is when Henry wishes to “make her just his woman”, where the woman refers to March. Here, the author has examined the need a man has to “own” a woman. This sentiment was prevalent during the time period in question. The woman was considered an object or property. Moreover, Henry’s ability to leave March “spellbound” augments the power men are depicted to possess. Henry’s killing of Banford adds further to the impression of his strength and power. These illustrations demonstrate not only the idea of gender division and authority of man, but sometimes border on chauvinism.
Lawrence has done a more than commendable job in revealing various aspects of the human nature and psyche through The Fox. The reader may observe a high degree of resemblance between the notions and features analysed in The Fox and The Great Gatsby. The latter is a novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Both novels are based during the time of the First World War and the male lead character in both had been a soldier during the War. Both these works explore love, loss, uncertainty, fear, morality and death. Love in these instances is not the simple and pure love that fairytales are made of, but more complex and with underlying and furtive intentions. In the case of The Fox, it is more about physical desire and want, whereas in The Great Gatsby, it is a more materialistic love. These are two of the greatest works to have been penned and have made an enormous contribution to the world of literature dealing with profound notions, whether social, moral or psychoanalytical.
Lawrence, David. The Fox. Ed. Dieter Mehl. Cambridge: Cambridge, 1992.