Spoiled, But Not Less PowerfulYes, she spoiled it for me: She came home from her literature class and spilled the tragedies that had been read off the pages of her anthology. I listened and intermittently spoke with proper feedback as her wide eyes betrayed deeper emotions, and I vowed not to read those pages, if only to spare myself some emotions which would never amount to anything productive. My vows were in vain, however, for while aiming and pressing to get ahead of school before it even started, I happened upon the exact work that had been spoiled for me. Yes, the ending was known, but as I felt that wrenching feeling in my stomach, I read on, intrigued, even though the story's ending had been spoiled.
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was written by Ambrose Bierce in 1890 and published a year later (Baym 405). The author was a writer who sought to give readers stories they would remember by merging the “hallucinatory and the paranormal with everyday events” (398). Before writing mainly about the American Civil War, however, he spent time in England, practicing his writing skills, which developed into a vivid style that burns unforgettable images on the mind. “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” follows a man falsely accused of an injustice and sentenced to death.
Interestingly enough, because I knew the final outcome, I was convinced that I would not become engrossed with the story. I was assured I was going to remain standoffish; I did not need, nor care for, any unnecessary drama. The conclusion was known, and I was determined to simply check it off my list. I was not going to “feel” anything about the piece, but to my chagrin, I was completely engrossed in the various pages, and it made me feel awful. I loved it, and at the same time, I mourned. Bierce's piece was as poignant as can be, but very convincing. I admit I did have second thoughts as to the outcome of the main character, but all hopes were dashed to pieces in the end: Bierce had done it. He rejected the conventional ending and left me feeling devastated.
Bierce's short story did not, in and of itself, surprise me, as I knew what was at the end. Rather, it was Bierce and his writing. It was not surprising that he accomplished his literary goal, but his goal was accomplished even though I knew the outcome. Despite the fact that the last sentence was betrayed before I read it, the story held my attention. My response to the finality? Shock. Then came the shock that flooded when I realized my shock at something I had previously been alerted to. I decided that Ambrose Bierce completed his end, for though I knew the outcome, I was affixed to his few pages.
Literary devices used within the short story emphasize the goals Bierce aimed for. The title, “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” does no such thing as suggest or reveal pieces of the story. If anything, the title blatantly suggests a mere occurrence, nothing more. Within as little as three pages, I felt hope, ambition, dread, suspicion, angst, and exasperation. The man versus man conflict gave it essence; Payton Farquhar (the main character) never spied, destroyed any bridges, or stole secrets, but he was accused of these by the army and sentenced to doom. Bierce used pathos distinctly, and those reading should sense it, as they want justice to prevail. Nevertheless, one obstacle remains: Bierce was unconventional.
Though I am an avid reader and writer, there have been few short stories or poems that shock me, but this is one I have fallen for. Writing that captures is worth attention, and “Occurrence” not only seems powerful, but it is powerful. I tried to remain detached, but Bierce prevailed. I knew everything about the piece, but I knew nothing of his writing. Reading this work was more than an occurrence; it was an acclivity to an awareness of fresh unconventionality. Some stories, much less spoiled ones, do not require happy endings in order to be powerful.
Baym, Nina. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th ed. Vol. C. New York: Norton, 1998. Print.