The physical environment, as described in a story, can take on different meanings and describe various physical sensations when perceived by the narrator, both in first and in third person. The quality of the descriptions relating to the physical, sensual feelings such as sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch are affected by an omnipotent narrator writing from a third person perspective, or when written from a character’s first person point of view actually pretending to experience various life events occurring simultaneously. Ambrose Bierce’s story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” is written in the third person narration, as is Ursula Le Guin’s story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” However, Ambrose’s narration is more appealing to the senses due to the emotional abundance that is associated with a personal life and death situation. In contrast, Le Guin’s narration is based more on an impartial view on a particular neglected child living in a home’s private room.
- Sights and Sensory Perception
The character described in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” was about to be hanged by being forced to walk off a plank attached to a bridge. The person was gazing at his surroundings, taking notice of the soldiers following their captain’s orders, his own wife and child, and even the driftwood moving about in the racing stream below the bridge. The author begins to give the reader a sense of this man’s first person point of view as he feels time beginning to slow down, regardless of the actual pace of events occurring around him. This is emphasized by the driftwood being expressed in the man’s thoughts with the sentences, “How slowly it appeared to move!” and “What a sluggish stream!” (Bierce). These sentences also begin to draw the reader into this story by conjuring up the emotions and racing thoughts that one would start feeling if he or she were to be in this character’s current situation. Therefore, these thoughts begin to entice the reader’s sensory perceptions simply by describing how the man’s approaching death sentence would potentially make the readers feel while they would imagine themselves standing on the bridge.
In contrast, the author of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” focuses on describing the town primarily from an outsider’s point of view. The city is described as “a fairy tale, long ago and far away,” were “happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary” (Le Guin). This story takes place during summer, and therefore there are many descriptions of people who go outside and enjoy the weather, work and participate in various celebrations. Thus, the story is very descriptive, but does not appeal to the reader’s emotional empathy so much as the Owl Creek situation does, due to an outside-based perception.
In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” the character which is being hanged, Peyton Fahrquhar, begins to describe his escape from the hanging, as he is able to break free from the rope around his neck after it fails to hold and strangle him, accordingly. Peyton makes his way down the stream, while the soldiers fire at him as the captain gives his orders. This once again brings the reader into the story, as it begins to describe Peyton’s escape from his own point of view, even without the use of the word “I.” However, at the end of the story, we find out that the escape was all in Peyton’s mind, and essentially served to bring the reader further into the sensory emotions that are typical for a person facing this type of situation. Peyton’s mind began to wonder about the possibility of an escape due to a sense of hope, especially concerning reunion with his family (namely - his wife and child). The sense of hope is attributed to a basic human instinct and the inevitable innate struggle for survival despite odds. In contrast, the neglected and malnourished child described in the Omelas story is introduced in order to drive reader’s attention to the individuals of less fortunate kind. This part of the story seems to provoke thoughts on the social inequalities and neglect that take place in all kinds of communities throughout the world. Thus, while the Owl Creek story uses sensory perceptions to get one thinking about personal survival and hope, the Omelas story describes the neglect of others to remind of and potentially initiate more human welfare efforts.
Stories, which involve the concepts of the human need for survival or the need to increase human welfare or outreach programs, provide a solid foundation for invoking various sensory emotions, which in turn help the reader to become more engaged in the author’s idea or message. The Owl Creek story pulled the reader in by describing the innate need for survival. In contrast, the Omelas story focused more on helping the audience to become more aware of the people in our communities, who may be in need of attention despite living in a well-to-do environment. The stories therefore focus on engaging with the reader by appealing to our human nature, personal hope and social interactions.
- Bierce, Ambrose. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Web. Retrieved from http://teachers.wrdsb.ca/urquhart/files/2012/10/owl.pdf on December 1, 2013.
- Guin, Ursula Le. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Web. Retrieved from http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/dunnweb/rprnts.omelas.pdf on December 1, 2013.
- Bergman, Kerstin. Depiction of sensory perceptions in contemporary literature and film. Language and Literature Center, Lund University. Web. Retrieved from http://www.google.de/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDwQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rj.se%2FSlutredovisningar%2F2004%2FKerstin_Bergman_eng.pdf&ei=qzSbUuCME6OG4AS_6oDICw&usg=AFQjCNGArJMuwKom8NKLwLISpGCBzyHe0g&bvm=bv.57155469,d.bGE on December 1, 2013.