An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce

A sly play between reality and the imagination is the function that operates in Bierce’s tragic American Civil War tale. Bierce touches upon notions of the afterlife yet embodies the harshness of Atheism as he draws on the speculation of brain activity once living has ceased. What is sought is a heaven, a relief from the terror of being executed, yet what is found is the dividing spectral line between the living and the dead. Instead of capitalizing on the spiritual ideal, Bierce presents the reality of life as he sees it, a biological phenomenon fully equipped with the unconscious ability for the brain and body to cope with death.

The use of ekphrasis during varying moments of the narrative provide hints to Peyton Farquhar’s unusual experience, that once the rope had accidentally broke, the circumstances he encounters are not altogether grounded in reality. In addition to these effects of spatial suspension, focalization works not only to immerse the audience into his terrifying ordeal, but literally, scenes and objects that come into Peyton’s view are focalized in ways that seem uncharacteristic, a way for Bierce to again hint, something out of the ordinary is occuring. These devices become a part of Bierce’s narrative way of separating the psychological from the realistic, but he does not rely on a simple assortment to get his message across.

Before learning the true nature of Peyton’s demise, the narrator utilizes language meant to suggest that what is happening may or may not be a part of the narrative’s reality. Upon first reading, an ambiguous phrase pronounces the man dead, yet the phrase is followed by a sentence that renders him “awakened–ages later; it seemed…” That Peyton is disillusioned to the point that he feels alienated from the current place in time is a reference to his psychological state. For a man who has been lucky enough to have his life spared, he feels like time has been propelled into the future. The jump from death, to life, to “ages later” acts as a creative device in which Bierce attempts to separate psychological time from real time.

As the narrative proceeds and Peyton makes his dramatic escape through the creek, he feels like he “had been caught in a vortex…” While this depiction fits his physical state as he negotiates his hectic situation in the water, a variation on the meaning of a vortex offers the notion that his state of mind is operating on a different level. A second reading lends credence to the idea that Peyton’s psychological state is being sucked into the vortex of death.

When Peyton begins to approach the realms of safety from the men who are trying to kill him, he falls “asleep while walking,” but the narrator suggests that he is recovering from a “delirium.” A delirium is generally associated with a state of mind that is detached from reality. Because this is a state that Peyton is possibly recovering from, Bierce succeeds in positing the idea that the escape might never have actually happened.

In all three examples, the figurative language is discreet so that the effect on the narrative is subtle. Peyton’s escape is perceived as a charged reaction to his sudden change of luck, but through the course of the read, a curious feeling emerges with the language that triggers abstract ideas in mind of the reader. The effect works to evoke a surreal sensation, as though escaping under conditions of intense fear and energy can produce these altered states of mind when actually, the event only occurred within his mind.

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“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

 – Art by James Christensen

“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” opens with the gloomy presence of ongoing rainfall and the unnerving imagery of “many crabs” that have to be removed from the inside of Pelayo’s home. With a drenched courtyard and Pelayo’s back-and-forth trips to the sea for crab removal, the soggy, creature-handling images trigger instant feelings of discomfort that are accompanied by the mortifying thoughts of a baby immersed in the stench of these crabs. As the imagery changes to the sights of the beach and the gray-ash sky, where the light is weak at noon, the entirety of this edgy and forlorn atmosphere precedes the scene of the old man with wings who is found “lying face down in the mud.”

A progression of setting extends between the chicken coop of which the old man becomes a prisoner — the one that becomes the place of his exhibition — and the sight of the same coop after the sun and rain have caused its collapse. The old man experiencing this wintry passing of time until the coop simply deteriorated suggests that the people who kept him there find the old man pathetic, yet evokes emotions of empathy for those who interpret the story from a distance.

When the story signals the end of winter arriving at the beginning of December, a worldly, geographical sensation arises. In addition, though the spring season is generally meant to symbolize newness, the horizon on the sea renders the old man flying away nothing more than some imaginary dot fading from view. The scene is depressing because this newness of setting and time sought to breath happiness and life into the old man, yet his “clumsy” actions and appearance of “decrepitude” works against the feeling of vitality that the newness of the season is intended to bring.

“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” (1968) is a short story written by Gabriel García Márquez. The story is only a few pages long and was originally written in Spanish. With the ocean side feeling combined with the presence of a human with wings, a curious feeling of realism is mixed with fantasy to present a strange tale that offers a moral that one has to struggle to perceive. The old man is pitiable to the extent that not even the Pope is interested in whether or not he is a real angel, but that his arrival comes from the stormy skies, the drama here ignites a sense of intrigue. Realism again is fended off when the old man is joined by a character rival, a woman who’s been transformed into a spider, though she gets to keep her face. Keeping the realism grounded, the presentation of these fantastical creatures emerges within the confines of a Latin community of sightseers who parade the creatures as exhibitions for money. What the story becomes is a view into the world of curious people who don’t want to get involved with any excess amount of philanthropic ideas because their motives are driven by their own needs for self-preservation. The creatures move about in the story freely, so long as they do not disrupt the balance of daily life, yet ironically enough, the creatures provide an escape from the mundane by appearing with their odd features and preternatural characteristics.

Elements of Fiction

Plot: sequence of events in a story and their relation to one another as they develop and often resolve a conflict

Exposition: background or setting of the conflict

Rising Action: dramatizes the specific events that set the conflict in motion

Turning Point: occurs midway before further complications prolong the suspense of the conflict’s resolution

Climax: emotional high point of the narration

Falling Action: events begin to wind down and point the reader toward the conclusion

Conclusion: dénouement at the end of the story, which resolves the conflict to a greater or lesser degree

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Foreshadowing: visualing/anticipating what might or will happen through the interpretation of the language

Dramatic Irony: making the reader aware of a reality that is different from what the characters perceive

Verbal Irony: using words opposite of actual characterization to describe things

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Protagonist: central character in a story

Characters: people involved with what happens in a story

Flat (static) Character: little or no description or information given

Round (dynamic) Character: well-developed, well-described; behavior easily understood

Sentimentality: emotional over-indulgence

Stereotyping: over-simplified judgment

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Setting: place and time of a story

Point of View: author’s choice of story narration

First Person Narrative: major/minor character participating in the story using the pronoun “I”

Second Person: author addresses reader directly; e.g. You, you are to blame…

Third Person: omniscient, non-participating narration using pronouns “he, she,” etc.; seeing into character’s minds

Style: result of a writer’s habitual use of certain rhetorical patterns, including sentence length/complexity, word choice/placement, and punctuation

Theme: generalization about the meaning of a story; a consequence of all the other elements that make up a story

Bloodchild

The first person narrative of “Bloodchild” (1995) begins by stating that the narrator’s last night of childhood is in progress. We eventually learn that his name is Gan, and that his mother’s name is Lien. Gan speaks about family, but also speaks of a multiple-limbed being named T’Gatoi that has a stinging tail. A couch is spoken of, and on this couch, T’Gatoi stung Lien as it was cradling her in its limbs; the sting injects a narcotic that causes sleepiness. Apparently, T’Gatoi and Lien are old friends, and they obviously differ in species, but the catch is that at some point in time, Lien promised this T’Gatoi a child of hers. Lien thought she was ready to sleep in T’Gatoi’s limbs, but the creature gets up and flies out the front door–[she] returns immediately with a man and puts him on the floor. She makes a point of learning and announcing the man’s name, which is Bram Lomas. T’Gatoi suddenly instructs Gan to go outside and slaughter an animal. When Gan expresses his apprehension at performing such an act due to inexperience, she smacks him hard with her tail. He realizes the import and thus heads into the backyard, then returns with an “achti” that he shot with a rifle that was kept hidden. T’Gatoi guts the achti, then “opens” Bram. She finds a grub in him and places it in the achti, then continues the process. Gan heads outside to vomit and a car pulls up. Then Gan talks with his brother Qui and they speak of being unable to runaway from the preserve. When the conversation turns to how T’Gatoi is taking Gan, and Qui asks if Gan has been implanted yet, Gan hits him. They fight, Gan runs him off, then goes to kitchen and loads the rifle. T’Gatoi comes to the table he’s sitting at and they talk about how he shouldn’t have seen all the gutting. She suspects Gan will shoot her. They discuss Gan’s sister taking his place, then struggle over the gun. Gan sacrifices himself, however, and undergoes implantation. Gan narrates that T’Gatoi had been pulled from his father’s flesh.