Surprise endings, also known as plot twists, are narrative tools employed to change the outcome of a story and are commonly used to hold the attention of the audience. These allow for audiences to develop their own notions and ideas on characters in the texts which are later on questioned when the true identities are revealed. The authors of A Rose for Emily and An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge employ various literal tools to foreshadow the plot twists that come to light at the end of the narrations.
In the short text of “A Rose for Emily” there is systematic build up for the surprise ending of the story. Miss Emily, the last of a respected family, is old and has been sleeping with the corpse of her lover, murdered 40 years ago and stored in her home (Faulkner 287). Faulkner plants misleading clues which perceptive readers quickly draw conclusions from. Preparation for these surprises are made through the mention of Emily’s Great Aunt Wyatt who had gone completely mad “remembering how old lady Wyatt, her great-aunt, had gone completely crazy at last” (Faulkner 1071). The author insinuates that mental illness may run through the Griersons family. Signs of Miss Emily’s mental deterioration are seen after the death of her father.
“The day after his death all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid, as is our custom. Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days, with the ministers calling on her, and the doctors, trying to persuade her to let them dispose of the body. Just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down, and they buried her father quickly” (Faulkner 1070)
The town folk explain away her odd behavior as being mad which the author does not refer to directly. However, a time would come when they would come to refer to her as so. Furthermore, the author highlights Miss Emily’s inability to cope with the death of a significant other. When she is called upon to remit taxes by the town’s deputies she ardently refers them to Col. Sartoris, a former mayor who had promised her that she would never have to pay taxes “See Colonel Sartoris…. I have no taxes in Jefferson” (Faulkner 1069). Miss Emily’s reference to Col. Sartoris is absurd as the man has been dead ten years. Similarly, Miss Emily is hesitant to part with the body of her deceased father and holds the corpse in the house for three days seemingly going about her life as though he still lived. Only when threatened with legal action does she allow for its removal. One would assume that she would have kept he body in the house had it not been known that he had died.
In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, the author uses symbolism and description to foreshadow the death of Fahrquhar. Fahrquhar regards a sound made by his clock as “Striking…like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer” (Bierce 607); this gives the clock extraordinary qualities. The author then has the second hand slow down and this in reality is impossible that the clock malfunctions at this precise time. Fahrquhar views this as time slowing down and this brings out the idea that Fahrquhar’s daydream is extended from a mere fifteen minutes to twenty four hours in his mind. Once Fahrquhar escapes into his own mind he comes to appreciate things around him; from the veined leaves of trees to and the insects, “He looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual trees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf–he saw the very insects upon them: the locusts, the brilliant bodied flies, the gray spiders stretching their webs from twig to twig” (Bierce 610). This is a clue that all is not well as a normal person would not be able to clearly see the veins on a leaf from twenty yards away.
In addition to that, he could tell the color of the eye of the sentinel who had fired at him, “The man in the water saw the eye of the man on the bridge gazing into his own through the sights of the rifle. He observed that it was a gray eye and remembered having read that gray eyes were keenest…” (Bierce 611). A person, in reality, is incapable of visually telling the color of another from twenty yards even when their eyes do meet.
In retrospect, these surprises do not come as a surprise as there were clear indicators of what was to happen at the end. Miss Emily takes up Homer into her abode, a man who the author clearly states is attracted to other men and who is not the marrying kind; and at a time when it was not considered right for a man and woman to live together“…And, as we had expected all along, within three days Homer Barron was back in town. A neighbor saw the Negro man admit him at the kitchen door at dusk one evening. And that was the last we saw of Homer Barron. And of Miss Emily for some time…” (Faulkner 1072-1073). A short period before, Miss Emily purchased arsenic and had refused to disclose its use as stipulated by the law.
“The druggist named several.”Theyll kill anything up to an elephant. But what you want is—”
“Arsenic,” Miss Emily said. “Is that a good one?”
“Is . . . arsenic? Yes, maam. But what you want—”
“I want arsenic.”
The druggist looked down at her. She looked back at him, erect, her face like a strained flag.
“Why, of course,” the druggist said. “If thats what you want. But the law requires you to tell what you are going to use it for.” (Faulkner 1072)
Similarly, Fahrquhar’s fate is sealed following the conversation between himself and the gray-clad soldier who rode up to his farm.
“One evening while Fahrquhar and his wife were sitting on a rustic bench near the entrance to his grounds, a gray-clad soldier rode up to the gate and asked for a drink of water…. The commandant has issued an order, which is posted everywhere, declaring that any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its bridges, tunnels, or trains will be summarily hanged. I saw the order… Suppose a man–a civilian and student of hanging– should elude the picket post and perhaps get the better of the sentinel,” said Fahrquhar, smiling, “what could he accomplish?… An hour later, after nightfall, he repassed the plantation, going northward in the direction from which he had come. He was a Federal scout.” (Bierce 608)
Surprise endings in literal works are never unseen and are often hinted at by authors through use of cleverly covered clues. Use of narrative tools aid in forewarning the audience of what is yet to come. If, however, authors employ chronological narration of the events of the story the end result may harbor audiences from drawing their own notions about the characters of the story.
Bierce, Ambrose. “An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Beers, Kylne. Elements Of Literature. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. 603-617.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Beers, Kylene. Elements of Literature. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. 1064-1077.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose For Emily.” Barnet, L and M Sylvan. An Introduction to Literature. 2005. 287-294.