Thursday, July 12, 2012

From Life to Hereafter

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In the story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” Ambrose Bierce uses symbols to depict Peyton Farquhar’s transition from life to death. The symbols he uses in this story simulate the last few moments in Peyton’s life. From the moment that a grey-clad soldier approaches Peyton, the bridge becomes his death. The only escape from his ultimate demise flows under his feet and is only accessible in his sub consciousness. When the inevitable has occurred and Peyton’s life on earth comes to an end, he sees, as many people having escaped death claim, a bright blinding white light as his soul flees his lifeless carcass and retreats to the afterworld.

Many times in stories, the very nature of a bridge depicts a symbolic use. A bridge is a structure that connects two separate pieces of land; however, it can also depict their distinctiveness Bierce, in this story, uses the bridge not as a connection from one side to the other, nut uses it to symbolize a passage from the world of the living to the world of the death As the federal scout had professed, Peyton, after his unsuccessful attempt to burn the bridge, sands a top the bridge with a noose around his neck awaiting his ultimate demise. As the soldier kick the boards away, and Peyton descends through the ties of the Railroad Bridge, he begins his untimely journey from life to the hereafter, thus the transition occurs.

In the Dictionary of Symbolism, water prevalently symbolizes life and the flowing of water depicts the transformation and the passing of time (Protas n.p.). Bierce also used the symbolization of water in this same way; First, Bierce uses the flow of the water to symbolize the slowing of time. Peyton starts off seeing the water as “…the swirling… stream racing madly beneath his feet.” (8) As Peyton’s observations continue, he fixes his eyes on a piece of driftwood. After he watches the wood dance down the stream, he then describes the water has having a more sluggish flow. With the slowing of the water, came the slowing of time for Peyton. As he awaits his untimely death, his last few moments seem to become an eternity. Next, Bierce’s uses the water to symbolize life. This time Peyton sees the water as an escape. He feels if he could just get to the water, it would become his second chance at life. As Peyton’s body make the transition through the railroad ties, his final thoughts set him free with a snap of the noose plunging into the water below thus giving the reader the perception that Peyton will live.

After Bierce presents the reader with the hope that Peyton has survived, he quickly snatches it away with the use of the blinding white light. “Light is one of the most universal and fundamental symbols. If is the spiritual and divine…” and has become closely associated with the soul leaving its earthly body and making its decent to the hereafter. Many people having survived w near-death experience report that after their souls floated from their bodies they were drawn to a bright light giving them a sense of comfort and belonging Where Bierce present the light to the reader, the strong symbolization associated with light quickly turns the reader’s hopefulness of Peyton surviving to a hasty realization that his death had actually occurred.

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The symbolization that Bierce uses in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” defines a transition to Peyton’s demise. It presents a detailed journey from the realm of reality to the jaws of death. As Peyton’s body descends through the bridge, his soul still searches for a way out. When the inevitable has taken place Peyton’s essence journeys to see his family one last time. His soul ascends to the light, and all is quiet. Bierce goes on to reiterate the fact that Peyton is deal, but the reader has already assumed the worse. In this story, the symbolization seems to speak louder than the words themselves. Maybe this could be the reason why “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was the most watch episode of the Twilight Zone that ever aired, or maybe there is a deeper reason that we will never know.



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