“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” Essay Assignment
The short story ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ by Ambrose Bierce is an outstanding book which has transported the interplay of human imagination to the realms of surreal heights. The book revolves around the theme that human imagination has the power to overshadow the harsh reality of death where time becomes the most powerful tool at the hands of protagonist. The author has succinctly shown through the hero of the novel, Peyton Farquhar, that certainty of death is not necessarily the end but the emergence of new world of imaginations where man can become superman and escape from the clutches of death. Time waits for no man but man can make use of it in the most bizarre way and may still come out as a winner!
The story spans the era of American civil war when the war had broken out between the northern state and Southern state and the protagonist Peyton Farquhar who was anxious to make his contribution. He does so by trying to create fire and gets caught by the federal army. The story starts with the scene of execution, death by hanging on the railroad bridge over a swift stream in Northern Alabama. The author uses surreal imagery to help the protagonist to escape from the certainty of death. The frequent flashback and the realities of the situation merge to give the readers a highly picturesque adventure where the hero fights the strange odds of nature against the certainty of death and like a superman comes out a winner, only in his fantasy. The inevitability of death by execution is brought back into sharp focus in the end when ‘Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge’.
The writer uses imagination and dramatic situations to add spice and color to generate curiosity among the readers to make it irresistible. The flashback segments are full of thought provoking human actions that never fail to persuade the readers to questions the actions and reactions of the characters who may be projecting myriad emotions. The dexterous use of imagery compels readers to believe that the protagonist has escaped his death. ‘He lost consciousness and was as one already dead. From this state he was awakened–ages later, it seemed to him’ and proceeds on to say that ‘the intellectual part of his nature was already effaced; he had power only to feel, and feeling was torment… he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum’.
The development of the theme is gradual and the various elements of the text are symbolic of the period. ‘To be hanged and drowned, he thought? that is not so bad; but I do not wish to be shot. No; I will not be shot; that is not fair’. The informal tone of the writing is intermingled with satirical poignancy that never fails to touch the human sensitivity, representing the objective reality of life in all its glory. The use of metaphors and the informality of the diction, captures the mood of the characters and conveys the message of pathos with an harsh emphasis that both horrifies the readers while at the same time acknowledging the righteousness of the action.
The novel has an abundance of magical realism, portrayed through supernatural elements like miracles, exaggerations and constructions of events and surreal picture of forest and unexpected vortex in the seen which throws the protagonist to the safety of the shore. ‘He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed, preternaturally keen and alert. Something in the awful disturbance of his organic system had so exalted and refined them that they made record of things never before perceived’. In the short story, the author’s narration is interspersed with lots of such elements that make his work both exciting and irresistible. The end of the story is the most poignant portrayal of human helplessness against the inevitability of death. ‘As he is about to clasp her he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like the shock of a cannon–then all is darkness and silence!
One can therefore clearly say that the thematic statement of the book can be expressed through the quote ‘If I could free my hands …. I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, reach the bank, take to the woods and get away home’. These were the thoughts that were flashed into the doomed man’s brain and brought to life a whole new world of superhuman adventure to defeat death and time? Indeed, the magical interludes have provided a fitting background to the events of the surreal imagination that give credence to the author’s ability to bind the characters within a tight melodramatic sequence.
Bierce, Ambrose Bierce. (2008). An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Doers publications.