An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge: Evaluation of Literary Elements Swinging from a noose off a railroad trellis, many thoughts race through a condemned man’s mind. In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Ambrose Bierce effectively uses literary elements to allow the reader to look through the keyhole of the mind of a dying man in his last moments of life. Elements such as realism, flashback, metaphor/simile, setting, point of view, and character allow the reader to become immersed in an intrigue of the main character’s psyche. The story begins with the events immediately leading to the hanging. This rrangement of time encourages the reader to formulate questions regarding the past. Effectively, the author uses flashback to supply information about the character’s family and the events leading up to the hanging. The reader learns that Peyton Farquhar, the main character, is a civilian with a strong desire to serve the Southern Cause. (Bierce 1, Act II) He is setup by a Federal Scout posing as a Confederate soldier (Bierce 2, Act II, 24) with information that will eventually lead to Peyton Farquhar’s demise. The entire second act of this story is flashback and is designed to answer the reader’s inevitable questions.
Metaphor is used most noticeably in the opening section of the story. The phrase “Death is a dignitary” (Bierce 3, Act I) evokes images of an older, dignified gentleman with a quiet, reserved personality. Likewise, the explanation of military etiquette shows respect for death in the formal, quiet, ceremonious way the hanging was accomplished. This was especially evident in the motionless state of the company observing the hanging. (Bierce 4, Act I) In addition, I found dignity and respect was even given to the main character.
He was still in possession of his watch, for example. Also, comparison is made using simile. “They (pains) seemed like streams of pulsating fire, heating him to an intolerable temperature. ”(Bierce 5, Act III) allows the reader to imagine the intensity of the pain. This comparison is particularly effective because the sensations of heat and cold are some to the first learned sensations experienced in early childhood. Ambrose Bierce uses very effective descriptions, allowing the reader to visualize the events. The setting of the story is enhanced by these descriptions.
Not only does the author tell the reader that the story takes place during the Civil War, but descriptions of weapons, uniforms, and other surroundings place the reader in that time and add to the believability of the story. For example, the “rustic bench near the entrance to his grounds” gives the reader and image of a large estate with a bench at the entrance, perhaps a cast iron bench with a green cast from mold growing in the shade of large trees on the plantation. The phrase “a light cloud of blue smoke rising from the muzzle” gives the reader an image of the gun and dates the gun’s operation.
The use of a cannon in the story also adds to the Civil War setting. The third person point-of-view is used in a compelling way by the author. By describing the events in great detail as the main character sees them, the passage of time is slowed. The events described during the character’s hallucination, “actually takes place in only the few seconds of his free fall” (Hall 1) suggesting “that time is subjective and relative to the observer. ” (Hall 2) Normally, one would consider someone trying to sabotage a bridge to be the antagonist of the story.
However, in this story, the main character has become the protagonist by virtue of being the underdog. He was duped into his actions due to a setup by a Federal Scout, eliciting the sympathy of the reader. In addition, stronger sympathies are likely to be had by readers in the South due in large part to stereotyping. In conclusion, the literary techniques used by Ambrose Bierce made “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” a compelling story that captures the reader’s attention through unanswered questions and a surprise ending. Detail adds to the setting, making the story realistic.
The author’s use of comparison adds to the detail, engaging the reader as though he was present at the events of the story. In addition, the sympathy felt by the reader with the protagonist, makes the final moments of the character’s death resonate an emotional response. Works Cited: Bierce, Ambrose. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. ” The Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Alsion Booth, J. Paul Hunter, Kelly J. Mays. W. W. Norton & Company: New York, 2006. 507-513 Hall, Michael. “Owl Creek Bridge- Ambrose Bierce. ” Generation CobWeb. 19 July 2007