Out of the many short stories for students that are analysed each semester, perhaps The Fox, by D.H. Lawrence, is the perfect one for highlighting the use of personification and metaphor in characterization. In many ways, the anti-hero of the real fox in the short novella is exemplified and personified by the real, human, villain of the piece. Conversely, the idea of ‘a silly goose’ can be seen in the portrayal of his rival, Banwell, as a helpless but nonetheless irritating and frustrating bird.
Lawrence’s story details the perceived eccentric lifestyle of two ‘odd-bod’ English women at the turn of the century. To accentuate their determined and unusual manfulness (compared with their more feminine and submissive peer group,) D. H. Lawrence chooses to label them by their surnames only - March and her close friend Banford.
Particularly in the case of the former, the name is reminiscent of army language - and indeed March aspires to be independent, strong and capable of standing on her own two feet in a man’s world. This was not an easy task in Victorian-minded England at the time, and the girls were having a difficult time of it. Trying to run a poultry farm and support themselves with little experience was bound to be a more challenging task than they had anticipated.
Banford, on the other hand, was the more feminine of the two ladies, although not consequently the more attractive. With a petite frame, a delicate constitution, little physical strength or stamina and an intense bespectacled face, Lawrence leaves readers in no doubt as to her slim chances of marriage.
Into this flawed agricultural lifestyle and quirky but contented relationship slides young, wily Henry in need of a home. The playing out of the relationships in the threesome is highlighted by the classic personification of a fox among the chickens - and Henry sure does stir things up!
The girls’ strange but cozy relationship of empathy and contented companionship is rocked by the watchful Henry, their boring but happy existence about to be chewed apart by his anger at a foiled plot to split them up. The dynamic in the hencoop is about to change. Henry’s boyish round head and long sweaty hair, his beckoning voice and watchful eyes suggest all the strategies of a handsome but menacing fox stalking its clucking prey. Banwell’s remonstrations and moody fussing at his attentions to her special friend seem more and more like frenzied squawking as the novella continues.
Henry, the opportunistic fox, builds upon her confusion and alienation, by creeping up closer still to March. Like the keen-nosed intuitive fox, he senses Banwell’s fear and manipulates her still further for she is the hurdle between himself, marriage to March and - ultimately - the farm.
Like a cold, calculating fox stalking a chicken, he picks his moment and strikes when she leaves the coop
“No one saw her flung outwards and laid, a little twitching heap, at the foot of the fence. No one except the boy. And he watched with intense bright eyes, as he would watch a wild goose he had shot.” With one sentence Lawrence completes the characterization of Banwell as a bird
“Was it winged, or dead? Dead! “