October 9, 2004

Please describe: "Occurrence"

In my experience, reading a biographies about writers are either boring or wonderfully colorful. I am swept away by the life that is Ambrose Bierce. My romanticism of him may conflict with my readers', but certain elements of his life are astounding. As a Civil War veteran, Bierce worked for a William Randolph Hearst muckraking newspaper: The Examiner, and was considered "America's first true cynic"--and the best part of his story--is that he just disappeared into Mexico, making the man into literary myth.

In the same way that his life has a mystical quality to it, so does his short story, "The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Description is my favorite thing to analyze in literary works. The first thing I ask is, "Too much, too little [description]?" Throughout this semester, I seem to have been eating Father Bear's porridge and sitting in Mama Bear's chair. With Bierce, however, this Goldilocks found Baby Bear's bed.

The descriptions Sarah calls "fishy" in her pursuit to pinpoint the imaginery shift in tone, I believe make the piece rich; the descriptions drive the entire story. In the descriptive switch, for example, between a dreamy, beautiful homecoming, "his wife, looking fresh and cool and sweet" to the fatal, business proceeding of a hanging, "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 story's climax and surprise ending hit the reader with a force that would not have been as forceful with one, singular descriptive tone. That dichotomy is what makes the surprise ending (that, for me, was ruined by this bio).

While looking through some book reviews, I stumbled upon this one about Maupassant and the American Short Story, suprisingly there was something about "Occurrence". According to the article:

"In 'Owl Creek,'...one need only read closely in the section in which Peyton first fans from the bridge (and, in reality, dies) to obtain all the information necessary to interpret the rest of the story correctly as an hallucination.

Allen is making that conclusion based on his knowledge of the ending. Kind of like a person watching The Village and saying that they knew all along what was going to happen. Arrogant Allen, saying "I read closely. I got the joke. Why didn't you?" Just for my credibility, I would not use this source AT ALL for a research paper. PDF files are just too annoying to link to on a blog.

Kudos to Linda on her five stages of death theory. I agree that Farquhar was probably experiencing each of these stages during the story. While the story is in third person perspective, the narration is limited to Farquhar's thoughts, thereby stringing the readers along for the ride through each stage. Expressed most explicitly in what Linda calls the Acceptance segment, the readers are pulled in: "'…recovered from a delirium…' and he sees his home,'…all bright and beautiful' His wife is standing to greet him and he thinks:' Ah, how beautiful she is! He springs forwards with extended arms.' Then, the reader must also accept, rather quickly, the ending.


More Bierce to come. Speech on Monday!

If you have read this far, thanks, a lovely parting gift will be waiting backstage. :-D

Posted by Amanda Cochran at October 9, 2004 7:16 PM

Amanda, I'd be honored if you'd like to anything on my blog! I'm sure it will be a very interesting paper! Linda

Posted by: Linda Fondrk at October 10, 2004 10:06 AM

Thanks for permission. ;-D What are you writing your paper on? Perhaps we could team up and research together. I am writing about Bierce and connecting his work to either him or the period.

I have read that his work wasn't popular during his era because everything was glorifying the Civil War, but I don't know if that is a reliable source (it was a Civil War fan site). I have much work to do, and if we divided the work, maybe we could get a lot more accomplished. Think about it. :-)

Posted by: Amanda at October 10, 2004 3:38 PM

Totally loved seeing the five stages of death, I can see the connection to each stage somewhere in the story. : D

Posted by: Diana at October 10, 2004 11:15 PM
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