A Reader’s Misperception Through Theme And Diction

664 words - 3 pages

In Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”(1909), the plot illustrates the theme of the short story. The parts of the plot - hanging suspension, a distracting flashback moment, a fantasy escape, and the ending- display a surprise ending to the reader which thereby gives the theme. The theme of “things are not always as they appear” is displayed in the story through misperceptions and the diction.
The protagonist’s misperceptions of reality illustrates the theme through the federal scout, the creek, the watch’s ticking. Theme is expressed when the federal scout appears to be a confederate scout, and tricks the protagonist into going to his own death: “He thanked her ceremoniously, bowed to her husband and rode away. An hour later, after nightfall, he repassed the plantation, going northward in the direction from which he had come. He was a Federal scout.”(174) The creek demonstrates the theme through the water; even though the water appears to be moving fast, the protagonist later tells that the stream is actually traveling much slower: “ … the stream racing madly beneath his fear…How slowly it appeared to move! What a sluggish stream!”(172) The ticking of the watch is the final misperception to the theme; as the protagonist slowly slips into the hands of death, the ticking of the watch becomes slower and slower then before: “… a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon an anvil… The intervals of silence grew progressively longer…”(173)
The reader’s misperception of the protagonist’s escape shows that things aren’t always what they seem. The rope’s breaking and protagonist subsequent escape appear real to the reader. The surprise ending shows what the reader believes to be an escape to be only a fantasy in his mind. Bierce gives a hint to a fake escape: “‘ If I could free my hands,’ he thought ‘ I might throw off the nose and spring into the stream…”(173) Thus the conflict...

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