Friday, January 19, 2007

Unthinkable Arcs Of Oscillation

Journal No. 5
English 48B
Dr. Scott Lankford
Author I Chose: Ambrose Bierce

From the short story "An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge"

I. "Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum."

II. Ambrose Bierce is describing the moment-by-moment experience of Peyton Farquhar, who has just been hung, as he is slowly dying.

III. Bierce is using dramatic similes to describe the emotional and physical pain that Mr. Farquhar experiences. I wonder how "luminous" fits in with the rest of the description of what Mr. Farquhar is going through. Does Bierce mean to imply that there is a "resplendent" quality to his experience, in addition to the "fiery heart?" This was interesting to me- it seemed to be two opposite experiences at the same time. It seems that Bierce is implying that Mr. Farquhar is both reluctant and prepared to leave his physical being behind. Has he come to peace with death or is he simply seeing the "luminous cloud" as something to fear? I suppose that, as with much literature, it is something that one could never completely answer. My opinion is that Mr. Farquhar is both frightened and comforted by death. Though I am not a believer in organized religion, I think that we all have a deeply-rooted need to come to terms with death on some level. We may do it in different ways - even denial is a form of "dealing with it" - but it's something that we need to do to complete our life-cycle. My interpretation of Bierce's writing here is that this man has not done very little wrong in his life, he loves his family, and he loves his "cause." That may have brought even a fraction of peace to the final, horrific process of his very physical death.

I do understand that there is irony in this story, but I only "got" the overall irony. As we discussed in class, the first part of the story is written in a journastic style. Facts are frequent and impersonal. In the second part of the story, we understand who Mr. Farquhar is. We also learn of the events that brought him to Owl Creek Bridge. At the beginning of the third part of the story, we are led to believe that Mr. Farquhar has miraculously survived the hanging. At the end of the third part, we realize that Mr. Farquhar has, in fact, been killed by hanging. The only part that I understand to be ironic is that the reader has been mislead. I'm not sure that I understand Bierce's humor enough to see other ironies as well. I may be completely oblivious here since I'm sure that there are more examples, as well.


Scott said...

20 points. I do think Bierce also mocks Farquar's delusions all the way through...