The Effect Of Death On One’s Perspective Of Reality In An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

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One of many possible themes of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce is that one’s perspective of reality is completely altered during the brink of death. Bierce brilliantly revolved the story around naturalism and realism throughout the entire short story. Given that the setting was during the Civil War in Northern Alabama due to the reference of Union and Confederate soldiers in the story, one can identify naturalism. On the other hand, one can look at the setting as inside Farquhar’s mind, allowing the leader to recognize realism in the text. This short story contains evidence of realism and naturalism distributed throughout the text.

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Bierce started off the short story with realism then eventually transitioned to naturalism. Realism is identified as a literary technique where the author describes objects and characters as they appear, and without any additional personifications or objectifications. For example, in paragraph one, it says, “A man stood upon a railroad bridge in Northern Alabama, looking down into the swift waters twenty feet below” (Bierce 327). As the reader can see, Bierce did not include any special tools to describe the situation. Bierce simply gave the reader the actual description of the setting. One of many other quotations the short story provided that showed proof of realism is, “Beyond one of the sentinels nobody was in sight; the railroad ran straight into a forest for a hundred yards, then, curving, was lost to view”. Though this was too direct of a quote to analyze, it just goes to show the audience that the sentence does not require decorating to get its point across to its’ audience. The transition, however, starts with the following sentence: “The other bank of the stream was open ground- a gentle acclivity crowned with a stockade of vertical tree trunks, loopholed for rifles, with a single embrasure through which protruded the muzzle of a brass cannon commanding the bridge”. At this point of the story, this nameless man is starting to become more descriptive by exaggerating when speaking of his surroundings. Both of the quotes provided above can be both found in the first chapter of this short story where Bierce placidly created the transition from realism to naturalism.

Bierce, author of “An Occurrence at Owl Bridge ”, continues to give the readers further knowledge about the situation that this man was currently in by emphasizing every single experience this man was going through while about to be hung. An excellent example of this is located in the fourth paragraph of chapter one, and it says, “Striking through the thought of his dear ones was a sound which he could neither ignore nor understand , a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil… What he heard was the ticking of his watch”. This quote is significant to the story because Bierce was starting to express more from the realism point of view. What makes this story so interesting is that Bierce was writing about what happens to one’s perspective when on the verge of death. Based on how the author described what this convicted felon was being subjected to, the reader can presume that one’s senses are all heightened during the last few moments of life. Another quote to prove this theory states, “The water, touched to gold by the early morning sun, the brooding mists under the piece of drift…” (Bierce 328). This quote is one of the key parts of chapter one because, just like the previous quote, this quote also comments that the character’s visual senses were much more sensitive. The character paid attention to details one usually wouldn’t make such a big deal of such as the sun reflecting on the water. Chapter one concluded with vivid description of how the character was coping with his near death experience.

As for chapters two and three, the author modulates from the focus of the background story of the main character, Peyton Farquhar, to the hallucinations he was going through. The second chapter begins with Farquhar’s encounter with a dusty horseman who was in need of water. The two conversed about a civilian being hung near the Owl Creek bridge for meddling with the railroad among other things. The person Farquhar was actually chatting with was a Federal scout. This is a key part of the story because it provides both foreshadowing and background information. Chapter three consists of Peyton Farquhar freeing himself from the noose. The third paragraph says, “A fish slid along beneath his eyes and he heard the rush of its body parting the water”, which gives the audience the confirmation that he escaped from the bridge. However, at the end of the chapter, it reveals that he died while his body, “swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge” (Bierce 333).

In conclusion, “An occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” contained the theme of death altering one’s perspective of reality when they came face to face with death. The author accomplished so by disseminating naturalism and realism throughout the entire short story. Bierce concluded the story with a plot twist, revealing that Peyton Farquhar actually died and everything that he experienced was created with his imagination. 

10 Jun 2021

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