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An occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge - Essay Example

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Stories that capture the imagination and carry the reader to another place and time are worthy of discussion indeed. The way in which Ambrose Bierce manipulates time and plays with reality is what makes “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” such a thought-provoking story…
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An occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
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"An occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"

Stories that capture the imagination and carry the reader to another place and time are worthy of discussion indeed. The way in which Ambrose Bierce manipulates time and plays with reality is what makes “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” such a thought-provoking story. The order of events that constitute the story do not correspond to the natural sequence of the events. Bierce uses this ingeniously to foreshadow the fate of Peyton Farquhar and create allusions to the outcome and significance of the story. One example can be found in the situation that describes the ticking of Farquhar’s watch in Part I. The event itself lasts only for a few seconds but this is depicted in a comparatively long passage. "The intervals of the strikes grew progressively longer, the delays became maddening" (Bierce). This paper focuses on how Bierce manipulates time throughout the story, and how this manipulation is noticeable at first when the reader is introduced to a flashback midway through the tale. This paper focuses on Bierce’s manipulation of time in each section, and especially how this manipulation is located in Part II. Bierce begins the story at what seems to be near the end of Farquhar’s life as he stands in the gallows waiting to be hanged. The ticking watch symbolizes the time that is quickly drawing to a close for Farquhar. It is certainly a foreshadowing of what is to come. Perhaps he uses this to reflect on his life in an effort to find meaning in it all. Bierce is masterful in his ability to draw the reader into the rest of the story through his recounting of the events recounted in the first section of the story. In Part II, the narrator describes how a gray-clad soldier comes to Farquhar’s house and reports about happenings on the Owl Creek Bridge. The Union army is repairing the bridge and they are getting ready for another advance. Any civilian caught interfering with the railroad is to be hanged. After this meeting Farquhar sees his chance to release his energy and sympathies for the southern cause. The narrator gives an insight into the reason of Faquhar’s current situation after the reader learns the consequence that the protagonist is to be hanged. This conversation happens earlier than the events currently depicted in the story and it clearly interrupts the chronology of the natural sequence of events. This occurs due to a foreshadowing effect that Bierce effectively employs, and it enables the reader to fully understand the events leading up to this point. Another aspect of how time is presented in this short story concerns ‘story time’ and ‘discourse time’. The actual story or time that passes within the narrated world is just a few minutes long and only covers the physical death as he is hanged. The ‘discourse time’, however, is much longer as it explores the journey Farquhar takes in his mind prior to death. For example, it is interesting to read how this comes about based on the fact the driftwood seems to be moving slowly, yet for Farquhar it is moving quite fast. The entirety of Part III is the pure fantasy of Farquhar and only passes by in his mind. The reader, like Farquhar, puts the 'story time' on hold and is transported to an alternative version of Farquhar's reality where time seems to stand still. Details concerning the relationship between the ‘story’ and ‘discourse time’ can be found in various passages. Another example can be found at the beginning of Part III when Farquhar awakes from his loss of consciousness. " …ages later, it seemed to him…" (Bierce). How the world must have appeared to him. Reality was altered, as he awoke to a whole new stage of life, in his mind anyway. Furthermore, one also can recognize an ‘ellipsis’ in the text, as the narrator leaves out a period of time between two events. In the text, the reader learns the reason for Farquhar’s destiny in Part II and the act of his punishment in Part I. The narrator does not mention Read More
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