Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Could it Really Occurred at Owl Creek Bridge ?

Could it Really Occurred at Owl Creek Bridge ?

Paper on An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce



An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is a short story by Ambrose Bierce. It was originally published by in 1890. This story is set during the American Civil War. In this story the main character Peyton Farquhar is being hanged at the Owl Creek Bridge. As he was dying, Peyton have an interesting imaginative last moment. The story focused on his imagination and how he did not realize that he is caught in a fantasy. At first this story might seem like a fiction, this could never happen in reality. It might seem irrational to think that such a thing could happen. Yet, there are no proves that this is just fictional. The dead could not come back to tell us what they saw last or what happened next. Anything could happen but there’s no way to find out. Likewise, such “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is possible and many scholars have explained how it happened.
Perspective plays a very important role in this story. If the story was told from the viewpoint of those spectators watching Peyton Farquhar being hang the story would not be so exciting. For the single company of infantry resting and watching from the slope, the whole hanging process would be over in a minute. Furthermore, Peyton Farquhar would be death in a few seconds after the board under his feet was removed causing him to fall and the rope would break his neck. The story would be very short and boring. This is how the story was told in the first section. Ambrose Bierce gives many details about the scene of the hanging.  He carefully described all the little details, “the swirling water of the stream racing madly beneath his feet. A piece of dancing driftwood caught his attention and his eyes followed it down the current. How slowly it appeared to move (Bierce 24).” However, nothing is really special about some driftwood flowing down a creek. That first section was pretty much uninteresting. Gratefully, this story was told from the viewpoint of Peyton Farquhar. This perspective changed everything. Nothing would make him more nervous than knowing he will die in a few seconds. In this final moment of his life, many things come across his mind. In the first section it mentioned that Peyton Farquhar was thinking about his wife and his family. This is typical. We all should be thinking about the people we love if we know that we are dying.  The second section of the story was told as a flashback narrative. Peyton Farquhar was a planter in Alabama. He supported the Southern cause. One day, a Union soldier dressed up in the Confederate disguise comes to Peyton’s house. The soldier told Peyton about the Union soldier repairing the Owl Creek Bridge. The soldier lied and told Peyton that the bridge was not heavily guarded.  Convinced, Peyton try to sabotage the bridge that night. They caught him and he will be hanged. In the third section the story got very exciting. This section was told from Peyton point of view. In the last few seconds of his life Peyton loses his mind and he loses touch with reality. Peyton goes into this wild imagination. In his fantasy, Peyton’s rope must have broken and he falls down to the creek below. Amazingly, he was able to untie himself while he was drowning. When he was able to swim up to the surface, the soldier was shooting at him. Luckily, he was able to escape and reach the forest. Peyton traveled through the forest day and night until he finally arrived home. His wife comes out to meet him. Peyton try to hug his wife, only to realize that the whole thing was unreal. “Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek Bridge (Bierce 39).” This is the section that makes this story famous. Its irregular time sequence and twist ending was considered innovative back in 1890. Moreover, this is the story that Bierce was best known for (Reuben). In fact, it is Bierce's most anthologized story (Blume 211). A long period of subjective time passed in an instant. How could that happen? Could such thing that happen to Peyton happen to us? Imagined experiences of Peyton Farquhar while falling, has been explored by several authors. Dying can be a lot more complicated than we thought. What is really going on in our last moment of our life is a mystery. Proving these theory about what is going on in our mind before we die is almost impossible. No one that died could come back and tell us what happened. Will we all experience the same thing the final moment of our life?
                What happened at the Owl Creek Bridge? Some scholars such as Stoicheff suggested that the whole escape adventure was all just a dream. Peyton Farquhar worked hard all night trying to sabotage the bridge, he was caught, he was interrogated, it was a long night and he got no sleep. Standing on the bridge nearly to be hanged, Payton was exhausted and sleepy. The Union soldiers go through their boring execution procedure. Peyton “closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children (Bierce 25).”  Before he knows it, Peyton is asleep. Most of us have an experience like that before. Sitting in some boring lecture, listening to the teacher, I shut my eyes for a while and think about what the teacher was saying. Before I knew it, the class was over. Slept through the entire class, I learn nothing from that class. I have some dreams during that slept but it was nothing memorable. It was just one of those confusing dream that have no structure or meaning. Peyton Farquhar has much more fascinating dream. In such a desperate time, Peyton have a good dream. In his dream Peyton found hope and freedom. In this moment of willful misperception, however, the man's character turns grotesquely inward, toward a final self-absorption and delusion (Baybrook). Unfortunately, this dream of his has a bad ending.
                In 1999, a research study about dreaming done by Raija-Leena Punamäki. The study examined how the mood changes from night to morning, and how dysphoric dream contents associate with this change among children who live in traumatic environment and their controls from peaceful area. There were many interesting results found in this research. The most interesting result found was the one contrary to the hypothesis, results for the trauma group revealed a reverse association between evening mood and dream contents: the more afraid, angry and worried children felt in the evening, the more happy recreation dreams they reported (Punamäki). The research was done on 413 Palestinian boys and girls of 6-15 years of age. Similar to Peyton Farquhar these children were living in a very hostile environment. Frequent wars and violence surrounded them just like the Civil War around Peyton’s home. Fascinatingly, in contrast with our intuition, good dream are caused by trauma and bad experiences during the day. This explains why Peyton have such a happy dream in the time of despair. The more afraid they are in the evening, that’s the better dream those children will have. Peyton was also very afraid before he gets hang. This also caused him to have an incredible dream that he survived execution, survived heavy gunfire, made his way back home. Unfortunately, the study by Punamäki did not reveal why bad situation leads to good dream. That study only gives us the statistical results. Nevertheless, this study further confirmed the fact that such a good dream can result from bad situation. Therefore, this gives us some insight of what was going on in Peyton’s mind. It also supported the possibility of Peyton’s experience.
                Another fascinating aspect about dreaming is how it manipulates time. Sometimes, during many hours of sleep the length of dream can be very shorter. This is why sometime a whole day road trip takes us only a few minutes if we were sleeping that whole time. Oppositely, a few minutes of sleep can results in a dream that lasted for days. The best illustration of this can be found in the Academy Awards winning film, “Inception”. In this science fiction movie "five minutes in the real world gives you one hour in the dream world (Nolan "Inception")." In one part of the movie, Dom Cobb and his wife spent their one night sleeping that resulted in a dream that lasted for decades. In that dream they grew old together. Spending so many years in the dream caused Dom Cobb’s wife to forget the reality. When they woke up, realizing that only one night has passed in the real time, they could not adjusted to the reality. Consequently, Dom Cobb’s wife decided to commit suicide instead of accepting the reality (Nolan "Inception"). This clearly explains how Peyton could have such a long dream in a few seconds of sleep. He spent the whole day and night escaping and traveling home. In his dream, Payton adventures lasted many hours, while in reality the whole execution took only a few seconds. If only his dream could lasted a few moment longer he could have hugged his wife and the ending would not be so bad. Similar to Dom Cobb’s wife in “Inception,” some dream are so good that waking up is unpleasant. Peyton probably wish he could stay in that dream forever but everyone must face the reality. And for Peyton, death is his reality.
                A paper by Stoicheff also gives another explanation on “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Stoicheff combines sensations and emotions to explain the suspension of time. Stoicheff explains that “within a short time period, sensation does not become effaced, but instead divides itself into infinite units of experience, saturating the mind with stimuli. From this perspective, "time" becomes vertiginous, the span of a second dilating to reveal ever increasing interior units of time, which themselves repeat the process of fractal division. Thus it may take "only" a "split second" for Farquhar to transform from a sensate being to an insensate one (for Farquhar is "as one already dead" within that short time, after all), but that moment itself encounters the threshold of time's erasure, in effect turning time inside out to reveal Blake's eternity in an hour (Stoicheff, 356).” According to Stoicheff, one of the reasons why time is somewhat indeterminate in the story is because of maximum emotional disturbance. Some hanging victims die immediately, while others struggle for several seconds - death in these cases becoming a more gruesome and gradual process. “Time” itself, when employed to calibrate human experience, seems to become indeterminate at points of maximum emotional disturbance (Stoicheff, 356). Therefore, Stoicheff is suggesting that through all the pains, the senses, and the emotions, Peyton is experiencing the maximum senses that his brain can handles, therefore he loses the sense of time and he became crazy and that is how he gets all those delusion about his escape. This is a very reasonable explanation on how Peyton get into his fantasy.
                There are many cases of people becoming mentally ill because of their experienced of physical and emotional pain. Sadness can make people become mentally ill and can lead to delusion. Sadness can lead to mental ill but that is not the only things. Many more emotions can make people crazy. Fears, angers, anxieties, and many more emotion can make people lose their minds. Similarly, great pain can make people go crazy and leads to many kind of terrible things. There are many stories about people being tortured and those pains are so bad that it made them mentally ill. This is another possibility of what actually happened to Peyton and how he got his delusion. Peyton could be so afraid that he loses his mind. He was so terrified of dying that he became crazy. Or he could be so sad that it caused him to lose his mind. He was probably thinking about his wife and his family. He feels sad for putting his family through pain and troubles. He knows he would never get to see his love ones again. Sadness is a powerful emotion in can leads to many outcomes. For Peyton it makes him crazy. Or it could be fear that caused his mental breakdown and delusion. He might be scare of death or of what would happen after death. He might be scare of what would happen to his wife and his family in the future without him around. He is probably thinking “what would they do without me, who will protect them?” One of these emotions might leads to his mental breakdown. Or many of these emotions going on at the same time could lead to his mental breakdown. Not only through emotions pain but also through the physical pain, it all lead Peyton to a terrible mental breakdown. Many people did not die instantly from hanging. Peyton might be one of those. He could have fall at the wrong angle and caused him great pain but not instant death. All those pain mounted up, his brain could no longer take it no more. He loses his mind. And many crazy things can happen to a crazy man. This could be what happened to Peyton, through emotional or physical pain or maybe both, Peyton become crazy. Mental ill can lead to many things and some of those are hallucination, delusion, and many more form of illusion. Crazy people can be lost in their own minds. Their realities are not reality. Anything could happen in their fantasy world. And Peyton is one of them.
“He looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual trees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf—he saw the very insects upon them: the locusts, the brilliant bodied flies, the gray spiders stretching their webs from twig to twig. He noted the prismatic colors in all the dewdrops upon a million blades of grass. The humming of the gnats that danced above the eddies of the stream, the beating of the dragon flies' wings, the strokes of the water spiders' legs, like oars which had lifted their boat—all these made audible music. A fish slid along beneath his eyes and he heard the rush of its body parting the water (Bierce 32).”
Peyton must be a superman or he must have some unnatural power. He could see the insects from great distance. He could hear almost everything. With all of these power he got he must be a super hero. Or he must be crazy and these powers are nothing except his fantasy. Peyton minds is broken, he could not recognize what is reality and what is not. With these great abilities to senses so many details, some have compared Peyton with the main character of "The Tell-Tale Heart."
"The Tell-Tale Heart" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It was first published in 1843, about 50 years before “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. The unnamed narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart" try to convince the reader of his sanity, while describing a murder he committed. The murder is carefully calculated, and the narrator hides the body by dismembering it and hiding it under the floorboards. The problem is that the narrator can't shut his mouth. Indeed, having exploded in a confession to the police, the convict now adjures his audience to "Hearken! and observe how healthily -- how calmly I can tell you the whole story(Poe, 355)." Even as he pleads obsessively to be judged sane, his maniacal focus on the audience's eyes upon him mirrors his previous obsession with his victim's (Baybrook).
The common thing about Peyton Farquhar and that unnamed narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart" is the ability to sense so too much things. While trying to convince the reader that he is not mad, yet the narrator claim that “The disease had sharpened my senses --not destroyed --not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell (Poe, 355).” Of course, no one believes him. After finishing reading that first paragraph in "The Tell-Tale Heart," everyone will strongly agree that the main character is truly crazy. However, Peyton was a little different. At first Peyton appears to be perfectly realistic and reasonable. The first and second part of the story seems to be fine. It is just another story, about the tragedy of wars. Then in the third part, things began to change. Amazingly, he survives both the hanging and falling down from the Owl Creek Bridge. Though uncommon, many have survived being hanged. Throughout history, numerous have manage to survives being hanged. And Peyton might be one of those luck people. Moreover, he also survives falling off the bridge. Even most of the people survive falling off the bridge, some did not. But that’s not all, Peyton even survive all the shooting and luckily missed the shot from a cannon. What a really lucky man. The reader might start getting suspicious if anyone could be that lucky. The first and second parts of the story feel like this story is based on a true story. Hanging is not rare during war time. And there are many cases in history of civilian supporting their cause and help sabotage the enemy. But in the third sections such a narrow and fortunate escape offers some clue to the reader that this might be a total fictional story. However, some readers might convince themselves that even though the chances are low it is still possible. After all, there are some of those incredible survival tales in our history. Joseph Samuel, an Englishman born in 1780, was made legendary for the surviving three executions. They tried to hang him three times but all of those time Samuel's rope snapped and he dropped to his feet. After the third unsuccessful attempt, the governor and the entire crowd agreed that it was a sign from God that Joseph Samuel had not committed any crime deserving of execution and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment instead (Glenday, 136) While the reader are trying to convince themselves that Peyton was just another extremely lucky man, the clues in the stories suggested something else. According to Baybrook “most readers grow suspicious by the time Farquhar cries, "God help me, I cannot dodge them all! (Bierce 35)" - a point that confirms the fantastic nature of his escape even as it foreshadows its collapse.” Throughout the rest of the stories more clues are given and in the end reader could come to agreement that something was wrong with Peyton’s brain.
In conclusion, whether Peyton fall asleep while being hanged and had a fascinating dream that he survived the execution and escaped to freedom. Or he could not bear all of the emotional and physical pain that he was going through while being hanged and this lead to his mental break down. Being crazy, Peyton had a dilution and thought he was escaping. His brain distorted the reality and makes him see what he wanted to see instead of realizing the reality. These explanations give the reader another perspective of the story. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is no longer just a wild fantasy tale. But it can be the story that is reasonably written. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” might seem illogical at first but with some insight it is not totally impossible after all. Reading through this lens the story can be related to the reader. Realizing that the story is not some silly fantasy the readers can put themselves in the place of Peyton. The reader can feel what he is going through. They could understand his anxiety and fears. This story can make the readers wonder about their own death and what it will be like. Death is a mystery. Little is explained, nothing could be proven. Therefore, anything could happen. Whatever happen to Peyton is not impossible. The same occurrence could happen to anyone as well. By understanding how Peyton enters his fantasy, the readers will appreciate this story more.
               








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