Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is typical of Ambrose Bierce’s fiction in that it deals with the outré, the unusual, here violent death and a heightened psychological state; it contains sardonic humor; and it ends with a cynical, ironic twist. This story is one of several that he wrote about the Civil War. (Bierce fought in the Civil War; he was a member of the Indiana volunteers and was apparently a brave and skillful soldier.) The grotesque reality, the horror, of war was one of his persistent themes. There is nothing glorious in Bierce’s depiction of the war; the Union army is cold, efficient, and deceitful; the Southern planter is “a slave owner, . . . a politician” who was, therefore, “naturally an original secessionist.” Furthermore, Farquhar suffers from the illusion that war provides opportunities for glory, “distinction,” and “adventure.” The trap is set, and the execution of this rather pathetic quarry is concluded with ruthless efficiency. Farquhar’s dreams of “service with the gallant army,” his “longing for the release of his energies” lead him directly to a sudden and decidedly unremarkable death—a final, brutal release of his “energies.”
Another of Bierce’s concerns in this, and in various other stories, is the portrayal of intense psychological states. The withholding of information is not mere trickery; rather it is a logical, calculated effort to force the reader into the realization that...
(The entire section is 576 words.)
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