Ambrose Bierce Research Paper

A generation earlier, Edgar Allan Poe, with whom Bierce is often compared because of their interest in the psychology of the grotesque, had begun to investigate the deformities of self-engrossment, that wayward spirit of independence so determinedly American, like Emerson's glossy and self-reliant Yankee or Dickinson's brooding "Soul" that seals itself up in a vault of its own society.Milton, battling for the character of his own England during civil war, considered narcissism the precursor to anarchy.

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The strange "whispers" he had been hearing were, in the clinical perspective of asphyxiation, the gasps emanating from that same tongue. Farquhar's demise has come not through a beating heart, the "tell" convulsing in Poe's madman, but through eyes that bulge and cannot close and through a tongue that whispers a tale of vanity. Perhaps because Farquhar's vanity is deeper than we suspect.

Back on the bridge, awaiting his execution, Farquhar was given one final moment to consider his moral plight -- perhaps to focus on the family he had abandoned for his warrior's adventure: "He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children" (306).

On the bridge, having noted the swiftness of the stream's current, Farquhar has observed a pivotal object floating upon it. Time and space are suddenly altered, and Farquhar thinks, "What a sluggish stream! His dream begins, perhaps before the hanging itself commences.

Fittingly, the object floating down the stream is a "piece of dancing driftwood" (306), the very same driftwood that, had he succeeded at burning it, would have served as the crowning instrument of his heroism.

Peyton Farquhar believes -- as do the readers -- that he has escaped execution and, under heavy gunfire, has made his way back home.

But by the end, he is dangling from a rope, his adventure unceremoniously squelched.Bierce does more in this story, however, than play with his readers' assumptions."Owl Creek Bridge" is also a case study in Farquhar's moral deformity.[1] In "Owl Creek Bridge," the protagonist's self-aggrandizing narrative appears, at first, to be perfectly realistic and reasonable. Genteel southern ideals about noble soldiering -- "the larger life of the soldier, the opportunity for distinction" -- have loomed over Farquhar like father and judge.[2] We know Poe's speaker to be mad from the start, but Farquhar seems only to have bitten off more than he could chew -- trying to burn down a bridge used by Union troops -- so we forgive him for his error and indulge his final delusion. In fact, subtly though not always discreetly, he is hanging him for it. [3] They have been the vexing eye upon him, despite the absence of any condescension or condemnation from his community.When Farquhar is hanged, his senses, like those of Poe's narrator, expand and deepen to become "preternaturally keen and alert"; they are "exalted and refined," recording phenomena "never before perceived" (309).Farquhar notes the minutest sensuous details of his surroundings and acquires astounding abilities, dodging and deflecting bullets ("Some of them touched him on the face and hands, then fell away" [311]), shrewdly calculating the timing and trajectory of cannon fire, and noting arcane military tactics.former NEH Fellow at Harvard University, now teaches modern American literature and film at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. This is Bierce's most concentrated realism, unmasking the vainglory and personal arrogance of a Romantic culture."An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (1890) depicts the heroic delusions of a citizen saboteur as he is being hanged by the Union army. Eliot, Horace, and the Formalist Empire" (Farquhar's enthrallment with the driftwood, fantastically distorting his perception of time and space, pre-empts any final reconnection to his life in a real world.The author's innuendo soon verges on mockery: when the soldier requests water at the house, Mrs.Farquhar, says Bierce, fetches him water "with her own white hands," nobly abasing herself in "aid of the South" (307).


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