Oil of Dog by Ambrose Bierce
In Oil of Dog by Ambrose Bierce we have the theme of greed, corruption, responsibility, unity and isolation. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by a man called Boffer Bings and after reading the story the reader realises that Bierce may be exploring the theme of greed and corruption. Both Boffer’s parents throughout the story appear to be driven by their desire to be financially successful and what is interesting is that neither of them seem to consider the morality of their actions. It is possible that Bierce by removing any issues of morality from the story when it comes to Boffer’s parents is placing a spotlight on the American dream itself and an individual’s (Boffer’s parents) desire to succeed regardless of the cost to either themselves or to others. What is also interesting is that Boffer himself has no scruples when it comes to his parents actions. At no stage in the story does he question the morality of their actions. Rather he willing does as he is told by his parents despite being aware that their actions (and business activities) leads to him being isolated from the community. This isolation from others may be important as it suggests that the community not only have morals but are also not as driven to succeed at any cost as Boffer’s parents are. If anything there is a sense of responsibility within the community.
How responsible the community are is noticeable by the fact that they hold a town meeting to ensure that Boffer’s parents stop what they are doing. However it is noticeable that prior to the meeting being held Boffer’s parents kill those who have been sent to advise them of the meeting. So driven are they to be commercially successful and produce the best oil they murder people. The fact that Mrs Bings runs an abortion clinic may also be significant because at the time the story was written abortion would have been illegal. Despite this Mrs Bing disregards the legalities of her actions (or the morality) and is driven by her desire for wealth or commercial success. Just as her husband is with his killing of the local dogs in his pursuit to produce oil for the local doctors. Both of Boffer’s parents are again driven by money regardless of the cost of their actions to others. Though some critics might suggest that both of Boffer’s parents at the start of the story are just providing the community with a service. It is more likely that Bierce’s intentions were to put a spotlight on the morality of their actions. To single them out from the community rather than looking at them as being part of the community.
It is also possible that Bierce is suggesting that the pursuit of the American dream, rather than it being a successful endeavour, will lead to the individual or individual’s blindly pursuing money while forgetting about the consequences to others or how legal their actions might be. Both of Boffer’s parents are breaking the law while at the same time striving for commercial (and financial) success. At no stage do they take into consideration the feelings of others or how morally objectionable their actions may be. The cost to Boffer and his parents is isolation from the community but the rewards appear to be more appealing to all three. All three view what they are doing as a commercial endeavour while the community, if not feebly, views it as morally reprehensible and as such deserves action (of isolation) to be taken. The community is imposing its morals on the Bings, yet the Bings do not appear to be concerned about the moral implications of any of their actions. Again they appear to be blindly driven by their desire to be commercially successful. Disregarding the opinions of others.
There is also a sense of irony at the end of the story. Both of Boffer’s parents driven by their desire to be successful attack each other with the tools of their trade (dagger and rope) and rather than any unity being shown both are overcome by the need to be successful. Even if that success comes at the cost of their marriage. Just as the narrator was isolated by the community and his parents now both parents are selfishly driven to succeed at all costs (their marriage). This may be important as symbolically Bierce may be suggesting that rather than the American dream uniting a family, an individual’s greed will take over and dictate the course that is taken. In this case both of Boffer’s parents giving their lives to a commercial venture and forgetting about the importance of marriage, family and community. Boffer’s parents have been corrupted by their blind pursuit for commercial success while at the same time forgetting about traditional values. Values that are more important than any financial reward.