Ambrose Bierce

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Compare and contrast the effects of war in Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek" and Chickamauga

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While the representation of war in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is quite genteel and orderly, the representation of war in Chickamauga is gory, horrifying, and chaotic.

Both take the American Civil War as the subject, but, aside from this, they seem to have relatively little in...

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While the representation of war in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is quite genteel and orderly, the representation of war in Chickamauga is gory, horrifying, and chaotic.

Both take the American Civil War as the subject, but, aside from this, they seem to have relatively little in common. Peyton Farquhar is a well-to-do plantation owner, someone who believes strongly in the ideals and way of life of the Old South, and he will do just about anything to defend them. He tries to burn down a railroad bridge after being prompted to do so by a Union scout dressed as a Confederate soldier, and when he is caught, he is neatly hanged from the bridge. Although he is presented sympathetically, the representation of war is quite tidy: there are no battlefields in this story, no bodies except Farquhar's, no blood, and no gore. When the hanging is over, we can imagine that the soldiers take down his body and go about the rest of their day, as usual.

In Chickamauga, however, a six-year-old boy wanders away from his home with only his wooden sword. Frightened by a rabbit, he runs off into the woods and gets lost. When he wakes up, he finds himself surrounded by an army of soldiers, all wounded—some horrifyingly so—and crawling toward the river. He begins to walk with, then ahead, of them, crossing the river until he sees a fire. The boy realizes that it is, in fact, his own home that is alight, and he sees the body of a woman who seems to be his mother, a hole blown in her head with her brain protruding. The child begins to chatter like an ape, making inarticulate and awful sounds, and we learn, finally, that he is a "deaf mute." It is a scene that makes one's heart stop because it is so absolutely awful. There is no tidy elegance in this depiction of war. Instead, the boy sees the most horrific sight a child could see, and neither he nor we can even begin to imagine what happens next.

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