There has been much examination of the more popular terms used in American literature, such as romanticism and classicism, but little examination done on literary realism. Despite realism being mostly ignored in the late nineteenth century, it has now become commonplace in American literature. Although An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce does offer some examples of literary realism in its verisimilitude of detail and idealism, there were also many instances of fantastical imagery and an unrealistic sense of time, which is contradictory to literary realism.
To further demonstrate that An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge offers example both for and against the definitions of literary realism, this paper will be broken up into three main sections. The first section will define realism in two different ways. The second section will show evidence supporting the fact that An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is an example of literary realism. The third section will show evidence against this story being an example of literary realism. These sections will be followed by a work cited page and images of the literary works used as a reference in this paper.
DEFINITIONS OF LITERARY REALISM
Literary realism has been defined by George J. Becker in an essay called Modern Language Quarterly with three criteria: “verisimilitude of detail…an effort to approach the norm of experience…and an objective, so far as an artist can achieve objectivity, rather than a subjective or idealistic view of human nature and experience” (Pizer 1). This, however, is not the only definition of realism that exists. Donald Pizer proposed to define realism as is applied to the “late nineteenth-century American novel” (2). This is important because we need to fully understand how this definition applies to literary works from this era on. His definition differs from Becker’s definition in that he states realism “achieves a greater diversity in subject matter than is suggested by the criterion of the representative” and that “it is essentially subjective and idealistic in its view of human nature and experience” (Pizer 2). These definitions are further explained in the supporting details of the story as discussed in the next section.
FACTORS SUPPORTING REALISM
One way in which An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is an example of literary realism, thus supporting Becker’s and Pizer’s definitions of realism, is through its abundance of verisimilitude of detail. The narrator attempts to thrust the reader into the shoes of the subject, James Farquhar, by using descriptive terms that are very realistic in nature. The story’s opening scene takes place on Owl Creek Bridge, a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, with Peyton Farquhar being hanged. Ambrose Bierce, the author, uses many seemingly unimportant details in the opening scene and throughout the story in a great attempt to make the reader feel as though he is there himself. One such example is when...