Short Story Essay on “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierceis a short yet succinct story related to the period of the war between Northern and Southern states. The structure of the story is accurately organized, and the ending is rather unpredictable. I would say that the author wrote about the human longing for freedom and a kind of protest against the war, as he himself took part in that war and had his own impressions and feelings to express.
The scene unfolding in the first part depicts the moment of upcoming execution of a southern plantation owner by confederate soldiers. This part is filled with foreboding of death. This period described by the author through the prism of the condemned man’s feelings shows how perception of time, space and motion are distorted in anticipation of death. As we can see, the man who’s about to be hanged perceived time in a different way: the time flow slows down for him, and thus what he perceives to be an unbearably long several minutes, might be only a couple of moments for other people. For instance, last moments of the man’s life were accompanied with thoughts about the wife and children. However, he was seeing distractions everywhere and thus failing to concentrate. Moreover, there’s considerable exaggeration in the doomed man’s perception not only of time, but also of sounds. While trying to devote his last thoughts to his family, he found distraction in an annoying sound – “a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmiths hammer upon the anvil” (Bierce). But – in objective reality, this was just ticking of his watch. To my thinking, close proximity of death expands the boarders of human perception and exaggerates sense of major aspects of reality.
Farguhar’s attitude towards the principle stating that “all is fair in love and war” (Bierce) implies some ironical nature, and it is seen, if one considers his destiny. Believing in this principle, the plantation owner – who didn’t go to war, yet was a soldier inside – easily got trapped by the confederate infiltrator. He decided to damage Owl Creek bridge, considering this deed to be something noble and heroic. However, as he got caught and was about to be hanged, his mind desperately tried to make up a way to escape execution, though – if judged by the same principle – confederate soldiers could be fully justified for executing him.
The third part of the story already describes the range of events occurring after the moment of the supposed execution. It is built up on thoughts and perceptions of the doomed and leads us from his falling into the river to his salvation and reunion with his wife. However, the author suddenly cuts the flow of narration and we realize that this entire journey happened in his mind. On the other hand, turning back to this part for one more time, one can notice the elements of narration that suggest mental nature of his narration. For instance, just in the beginning of the part there’s a hint for the reader about immateriality of his journey: “Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum» (Bierce). Moreover, the man’s perception is exaggerated here, too: he feels all sounds, all lights and colors in an intensified way. At the same time, his ordeal acquires an air of fantasy due to unbelievable escape from shooters and canons. In addition, the whole story of his salvation and way home is an allusion to a person’s journey to kingdom come: the southern bank where he found himself, the way home through unfamiliar roads, forests, under “unfamiliar” stars. The man thought them to have “malign significance” – the fact that also doesn’t suggest a happy ending.
In this story, combination and intertwining of two standpoints in narration is especially vantage, because the author focuses much on perceptions of the central character and perceptions of the surrounding people. The standpoint of an outside observer is combined with the standpoint of a central character, which enables fuller understanding of conceptual message of the story as well as allows the reader to combine the ways of perception of such abstract concepts as time, motion, space, sound in those who are on the verge of death and those who are in their normal condition. However, if Bierce had used only the view of third-person narrator, the story wouldn’t have been so full and comprehensive (despite its limited length). Fragments of the story showing the situation through the prism of the man’s perception allow one to compare.
Bierce, Ambrose. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, 1890. From: http://fiction.eserver.org/short/occurrence_at_owl_creek.html