How is near-death consciousness addressed in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bierce and Hemingway both address the workings of their characters' minds as they face imminent death, but the two writers do so in different ways. For Peyton Farquhar, Bierce constructs a detailed escape fantasy, while Hemingway sends Harry, his failed writer, into very specific memories of his past.

In how their minds function as they near their individuals deaths, the characters are developed and the writers' themes are emphasized. Peyton's desperate escape fantasy underscores his courage and his tremendous desire to live and to be reunited with the family he loves. By personalizing him in this way, Bierce makes Peyton's death a genuine tragedy, not merely an "occurrence" in the midst of a brutal war. Harry's memories of the past as he reviews his life are filled with regret and self-condemnation; he is unforgiving as he holds himself accountable for betraying his talent, for not being true to his work. Harry is a writer who did not write when he could and should have. This idea, that work is a matter of personal integrity, is found in many of Hemingway's stories and novels, as professionalism is a key characteristic of Hemingway's code hero.

In writing a thesis to pull together the near-death mental and emotional experiences of the two characters, you might consider the idea that how they expend their last bursts of mental energy and where their minds take them reveal the kinds of men they essentially are and have been in life.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One device Bierce uses to address near-death consciousness in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is to painfully compound the presence of Time and to slow Time down:

The intervals of silence grew progressively longer; the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the trust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.

It is in these prolonged intervals between seconds of amplified Time that Farquhar has his "escape" and restoration to home. This device could be compared to corresponding devices in The Snows of Kilimangaro.


accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Obviously both of these texts focus on the before-death thoughts of both characters. You might like to think about the way that these fantasies act as an escape from reality for both of them. I agree partly with #3 in the way in which such accounts should encourage us to question the identity of both protagonists, but, especially in the case of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," there is an intense irony in the way that the protagonist is only able to achieve the kind of purity of life and artistic expression he would like to have achieved during his lifetime in his final thoughts before dying.

legerdemain | Student

oK, so if anyone happens to take a stab at this....

Here is my idea of my thesis statement for my paper:

In Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek” and Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” both writers use the experience of passing from life to death as a way to illustrate the strength of the human will to live and to draw the reader, inextricably, into that struggle.

Does this work, do you think?

Any and all input is appreciated.

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The Snows of Kilimanjaro

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