Studying The Tales Of Soldiers And Civilians English Literature Essay

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"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is a short story by an American writer Ambrose Bierce. It was originally published in 1890 and then collected in Bierce's book Tales of Soldiers and Civilians. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is most famous for its style of narration and manipulation of time. Though the events in the book only take seconds, the story is over eight pages long. Time seems to slow for the man in the noose and at the same time speed up for the reader. In this way, Bierce presents his manipulation of time in the story. Ambrose Bierce has unique styles to pull the reader into the story. He uses unreliable narrator and imagery to allow the reader to picture and follow the narrator's way of thinking. In "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" the author uses similar techniques to create different tones, which in turn illicit very distinct reactions from the reader. Bierce uses a third person narrator with a limited omniscient point of view to tell of a brief, yet significant period of time. He also uses this method to create an analytical tone to tell the story of main character's experience just before death.

Set during the American Civil War, the tale of Peyton Farquhar who is a Confederate sympathizer condemned to death by hanging upon the Owl Creek Bridge of the title. The main character finds himself bound at the bridge's edge at the beginning of the story. The hanged man awaits his fait and thinks of his family for the last time. Farquhar attempts to plan his escape. Then he is distracted by a tremendous noise. He can not identify this, he can not tell if it was far away or near by. It is revealed that this noise is the ticking of his watch. The reader realizes through the narration that Fahrquar escapes and after several days of journey he reaches his home. However, the reader realizes that the main character is already dead and all imaginations were just a dream during the act of hanging which last only few seconds. This scene perfectly shows Bierce's manipulation of time.

Time is a mutable element and is also one of the most important markers in the text to signal to the reader what is happening and how it should be perceived. It is an elaborately devised commentary on the fluid nature of time. The story's structure, which moves from the present to the past to what is revealed to be the imagined present, reflects this fluidity as well as the tension that exists among competing notions of time. The second section interrupts what at first appears to be the continuous flow of the execution taking place in the present moment. Poised on the edge of the bridge, Farquhar closes his eyes, a signal of his slipping into his own version of reality, one that is unburdened by any responsibility to laws of time. As the ticking of his watch slows and more time elapses between the strokes, Farquhar drifts into a timeless realm. When Farquhar imagines himself slipping into the water, Bierce compares him to a "vast pendulum," [1] immaterial and spinning wildly out of control. Here Farquhar drifts into a transitional space that is neither life nor death but a disembodied consciousness in a world with its own rules.

Time in the larger sense, in this case in terms of history, is important because it creates the setting of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" within a specific point in historical time, a point that that the plot of this story by Ambrose Bierce relies on because of its content. [2] After the Battle of Shiloh, General Grant marched with his forces to Vicksburg. At Corinth Grant and General Rosecrans repulsed a Confederate attack while solidifying control of the town, an important railroad center. In Grant's memoirs there is a reference to Corinth and Owl Creek. [3] In the short story Bierce also refers to the Battle of Corinth and of course to Owl Creek.

On a more minute level, the function of time both defines the story as surreal and realist because it describes things in exact detail, taking many paragraphs to relate a single second. Thus, with the exception of historical time, time itself is something that is not real but only perceived by the characters and for the reader, it is even more disorienting because it turns out that all of the long description and events that should have taken a great deal of time occur within the singularity of a thought; a small moment in time. [4] 

One of the strange paradoxes concerning "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce is its strong and disconcerting blending of genres. Bierce precisely describes the complicated series of beams, planks, and ropes needed to hang Farquhar. Bierce's descriptions of the positioning of the soldiers, the way they hold their guns, the minutiae of military ritual and conduct, and the exact terminology and diction all establish a recognizable world. On the surface and, in fact, for the first-time reader of the story, until the end this seems like a work of realism but in fact, as the conclusion reveals, it is anything but realism; it is more surrealism as it is discovered that this was an elaborate dream. [5] In the final section, a fantasy world replaces reality, but this fantasy world is deceptively similar to the real world. This blend of realism and the surreal is used as the function of forcing the reader to call into question the reliability of the narrator and ask the reader to consider what he can expect from fiction. [6] 

Among others formal instruments Bierce uses subtle instances of foreshadowing to gesture to the gap between reality and illusion that widens throughout the story. Bierce's story hinges heavily on the unexpected final revelations, that Farquhar, far from escaping, has actually been hanged. Although Bierce intends the unexpected ending to startle the assumptions, he peppers his story with various clues to signal in advance the unreliable and completely fantastical nature of the concluding section. [7] For example, the description of the soldiers' weapons in the first section, with the company of infantrymen holding their guns at "parade rest" with the butts to the ground and the commanding officer standing with the point of his sword also to the ground, stands in stark contrast to the rounds fired and volley of shots lobbied at Farquhar during his imagined escape. The weapons are in truth merely ceremonial and harmless, and Farquhar is and remains in the company's custody throughout.

To separate his authorial voice from Farquhar's thoughts and signal the unreliable nature of Farquhar's sensory impressions, Bierce qualifies Farquhar's perceptions, describing how things seem to him as opposed to how, in reality, they truly are. In doing so, Bierce adds an unreliable slant to the otherwise realistic style and authoritative tone, and this slant foreshadows the revelation that things are not as they appear. The shifts in tone also call attention to Bierce's manipulation of the narrative. [8] Adventure fiction, in particular, often involves elaborate and seemingly impossible means of escape. [9] By tipping his hand in this way, Bierce calls into question readers' assumptions about reality and foreshadows the eventual revelation that the "action" of the story was not actually action, but fantasy. [10] 

Point of view and the narrator are questionable in the story. Bierce tells "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" in three parts. Part one is in objective third person point of view except for the last three paragraphs. This narrator observes events but cannot actually enter the mind of any character and know his thoughts. In the last three paragraphs of this part the narration shifts to all-knowing third person point of view narration. This change enables Bierce to take the reader inside Farquhar's mind to demonstrate how emotional upheaval alters not only the way the mind interprets reality but also the way it perceives the passage of time. [11] First, Farquhar mistakes the ticking of watch for the tolling of the bell. Then, after he drops from the bridge at the moment of execution, he perceives a single second as lasting hours. It is not clear who is the narrator of the story. Farquhar dies at the end, and obviously a dead man cannot tell tales. If the story is told by a soldier in the first person point of view, he could no have the access to Farquhar's mind and he could only report what he saw. Or if Farquhar revealed his thoughts to some person, the pace and immediacy of the action would have been lost.

In the last three paragraphs of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" told by a third person point of view, Farquhar is being hanged by the rope, and when the rope is undone, Farquhar escapes and sees the light of the river. The light in this particular story represents a warm bright light from heaven. However, the narrator reveals that Farquhar's escape is a hallucination that lasts only from moment the rope breaks his neck at the end of the fall. I suppose that the narrator may be God himself or some kind of spiritual entity. This highly distanced narrator in creates a sense of distance for the reader as well. The narrator sets himself as being highly credible for real events of his precision with the beginning details and exact descriptions. The reader is able to cross over into the consciousness of the protagonist at the moment when experience ends because of the story's cohesion and coherence. A focused examination of specific passages and themes in each of the story's sections demonstrates how Bierce satisfies the expectations of the reader and provides a reasonable subjective experience through known-new contracts of sentence structure and narrative style. [12] 

The ending of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" has drawn many reactions from critics. Some believe the ending is contrived and more appropriate for a thriller, suspense, or mystery tale than for a literary work. Others see the ending as Bierce's attempt to transform the traditional conventions of narration. The story of Farquhar's execution, like a traditional story, follows a logical order: from introduction to development to conclusion. [13] Bierce's "trick" is that the conclusion is not what it seems. By adding the third section, Bierce calls into question the essential nature of a story's resolution. Endings, his story reveals, can often be unresolved or manipulated. [14] 

Bierce's innovations in the story's structure reveal his unique understanding of plot. For Bierce, competing versions of the truth can exist within the same story. He also has a unique understanding of the way time can be used in a story. Bierce's greatest innovation comes in the way the seemingly consistent, seamless surface of his story nearly hides the competing versions of reality. However the story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is not very innovative, the structure of the story is in many ways.