“Oil of Dog” Summary by Ambrose Bierce

“Oil of Dog” is a short story by Ambrose Bierce about a boy who unwittingly combines his parents’ businesses and the consequences of his discovery. Here’s a summary of “Oil of Dog”.

“Oil of Dog” Summary

Boffer Bings is born into a humble life with honest parents. His father makes dog-oil and his mother disposes of unwanted babies. As a boy he assists his father in procuring dogs and his mother in removing the debris from her work. Helping his mother takes some cleverness, as it is against the law. Dog owners look with suspicion on him and his father. The doctors in town have a silent partnership with his father, often prescribing dog oil.

Looking back on how he indirectly led his parents to their deaths, he regrets the things that affected his own life badly.

One evening, while carrying the body of a foundling from his mother’s studio, Boffer sees a constable watching him. He was headed for the river to dispose of the body, but he sneaks into the side door of his father’s oil factory. It’s empty and lit only by a furnace below one of the vats. The mixture boils, occasionally pushing a piece of dog to the surface.

Oil of Dog Summary by Ambrose Bierce
“Oil of Dog” Summary by Ambrose Bierce

He looks at the body of the child and almost wishes it wasn’t dead. Afraid of the constable, he doesn’t want to leave with the body. He decides to drop it into the vat. His father won’t notice, and if the resultant oil ends up killing someone, that’s acceptable as there are so many people.

The next day, his father tells the family that his last batch of oil was the finest he’s ever produced. He didn’t do anything different, though, so he doesn’t know why. The boy confesses what he did.

His parents immediately combine their businesses. His mother moves her studio into a wing of the oil factory. Boffer no longer has to help find dogs or dispose of bodies. His father stops using dogs completely. The boy would have gone bad in his idleness if not for the holy influences of his mother and father, who was a deacon in a church. He regrets his role in their deaths.

His parents throw themselves into the business. In addition to children willingly brought to the mother, they look for children on the roads, even taking older ones and luring adults, if possible. They become obsessed with procuring people for the business.

Eventually, a town meeting is held to address the diminishing population. The parents are informed there will be severe consequences if anyone else goes missing. They leave dejected, desperate, and possibly insane. Boffer decides it’s best not to sleep in the factory that night.

At around midnight, Boffer looks into the furnace room through a window. One of the cauldrons is simmering. His father isn’t in bed, but is up tying a noose in a cord, occasionally looking at the door to the room his wife sleeps in. Boffer knows his purpose but can’t give any warning. The door opens and his mother and father are face to face. She holds one of her tools, a long dagger. They’re both surprised.

They look at each intensely for a moment. They lunge at each other and fight furiously, swearing and screaming. The mother tries to stab while the father tries to strangle. The father’s chest is pierced. They glare at each again and then the father in his desperation grabs his wife and drags her to the edge of the cauldron. He pulls her into it with himself. They soon disappear into the oil, which also contains the committee that called to invite them to the meeting.

Boffer leaves the town and writes these memoirs with a heart full of remorse for instigating this commercial disaster.

(End of “Oil of Dog” summary)

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