How do Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" relate to one another?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Besides the obvious similarity of both being set during American Wars ("Bridge" during The Civil War, and "Carried" during the Vietnam War), a more subtle relation can be made between Peyton Farquhar in Bierce's story and Lt. Jimmy Cross in O'Brien's.  As Peyton Farquhar stands on the bridge with a noose around his neck, his mind wanders off to his wife and home.  He dreams that he is with his wife again and that he is not about to be executed.  Likewise, as Jimmy Cross, an inexperienced, gentle leader, traipses through the jungles of Vietnam, his mind wanders off to a girl he hopes will be his girlfriend--Martha.  At the opening of the story, she is simply a college girl who writes him and who went on a date with him. Cross ponders the meaning of the word "love" that she signs on her letters to him.  And--just like Peyton's wife does for "Bridge's" main character--the thought of Martha  provides an escape from reality for Cross.

In addition, the authors' style in both of these portions of the related stories is similar. Bierce and O'Brien use the stream-of-consciousness technique to illustrate the mindset of someone who desperately needs to remove himself mentally from events at hand.

Finally, both authors are veterans of controversial wars. After the war, Bierce was troubled by his combat experience and wrote with such a harsh tone that he earned the moniker "Bitter Bierce." Eventually, he moved to Mexico and was never heard from again.  Like Bierce, O'Brien, a Vietnam Veteran, uses writing as a sort of therapy for his combat-related issues, and on a more positive note, is able to portray accurately the difficulties of the modern soldier.

edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The connection between "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and "The Things They Carried" is that both are set during wartime, and they both place their focus on a protagonist in a difficult position: Peyton Fahrquhar and Jimmy Cross. 

Peyton Fahrquhar is a civilian who has been manipulated by a Union scout and then caught sabotaging a bridge, which is a capital offense. As Fahrquhar faces execution by hanging, he copes with his impending death by projecting his mind on a miraculous escape. He pictures himself falling into the water beneath the bridge, dodging gunfire, and hiking home through the woods to his farm where "his wife, looking fresh and cool and sweet, steps down from the veranda to greet him." In reality, Fahrquhar does not survive the hanging, but the fantasy in which he loses himself in the moments leading up to his death provides comfort.

Jimmy Cross is a first lieutenant who is responsible for his platoon. While on patrol, Cross copes with the constant low-level fear and boredom of being a foot soldier by immersing himself in memories and thoughts of a young woman at home, Martha. When one of his men, Ted Lavender, is killed by a sniper, Cross blames Lavender's death on his own inattention as the leader. Cross decides he will no longer indulge himself in thoughts of Martha and burns her letters and pictures of her.

Both stories were written by men who had philosophical objections to war and great sympathy for people whose lives were lost or ruined because of war.  




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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

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