The storyline follows the execution of Farquhar Peyton, a Southerner who falls prey to a trap set by the Northerners during the Civil war. The major cause of the American Civil War was slavery with the Northerners being against it while the Southerners supporting the same (Symonds). Social Realism can be defined as a means adopted to describe certain circumstances using written and painted media. In the case of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” the author brings to light the actions of the characters while at the same time; he uses the major character to describe the story’s setting. The story and selected image have similarities in the fact that they show a theme of realism, one that gives a clear description of the Civil War and its outcomes.
The image depicts three men, a tree, and a grave. The land on which all these stand appears to be barren and dry. One of the men appears to be dead while the other man is standing but does not look at the dead man or the grave. The third man stands far from the other two and seems to be unaware of there being a dead man or even a grave. It is possible that he is aware of what is happening but is preoccupied with something else. The barren land shows destruction, because there are pieces of wood lying on the ground. Bierce’s story can be used to explain the picture he describes the land while his characters are used to explain what is happening during the story’s timeline.
In the story, Bierce writes that“It did not appear to be the duty of these two men to know what was occurring at the center of the bridge; they merely blockaded the two ends of the foot planking that traversed it” (1) It is probable that the two men were unaware of the execution that was taking place or did not care about the same. In the image, the same thing is happening. It can be assumed that the man on the ground is dead but viewers cannot be sure because the other men ignore the body. During the Civil War, many people including civilians, died and people were ignorant to this as long as the people were not relatives or friends (Symonds).
The grave in the picture shows the lives that were lost during the war. The tale’s main character Farquhar is being executed and is helpless as evidenced by his unfulfilled wish to free himself. The execution was carried out by the forces that in most cases are supposed to protect rather than harm. In the story, the author writes “he saw the bridge, the fort, the soldiers upon the bridge, the captain, the sergeant, the two privates, his executioners” (Bierce 4) This confirms the involvement of the army in his execution. It is also another outcome of the war where innocent people became prey to different situations that turned out to be their death warrants. Once in the grave a person is helpless and cannot do anything to change his situation. This is very much like Farquhar who is unable to help himself once caught and set up for execution. His fate is decided and is in a way already in his grave.
Despite everything, nature is still there, in the story and in the image. The picture shows trees despite the apparent barrenness of the land. In the story, the author includes nature in his narration as a way of creating the necessary setting for the story. Bierce affirms this idea when he writes, “The other bank of the stream was open ground a gentle slope topped with a stockade of vertical tree trunks, loopholed for rifles, with a single embrasure through which protruded the muzzle of a brass cannon commanding the bridge ”(2) Nature in the story is used as a war tactic. In the end, the barren land seen in the picture was all that remained in most places that felt the war’s impact. In addition, the man holding his arm akimbo can be used to depict a sense of loss after the damage is done.
It can be argued that Bierce’s experience during the war allowed him to put precise detail in his story. At the same time, he made his readers aware of some occurrences that were indeed happening during the war but had gone unnoticed by civilians from each side. The damage was however felt on both sides as the damage after the war was felt by America as a whole. In addition, Farquhar’s experience opens reader’s eyes to the deceit that surrounded the war. It can also be claimed that the sides used deceit in meeting their war agendas. For instance, a Northerner dresses as a Southerner and lays a trap for Farquhar, something that leads to his execution (Bierce 10).
In conclusion, realism as a theme is evident in both the picture and Bierce’s story. The story’s characters and the picture’s subject both depict a time of despair and loss. There is loss of life and that of livelihoods as the war’s aftermath had disrupted the American society. Farquhar Peyton lost his life while the lives of his wife and children were most probably disrupted. This is especially so if they were solely dependent on Farquhar as the head of the house. At the same time, there is a dead man and a grave in the picture giving evidence to loss of lives. Therefore, the story and selected image have similarities in the fact that they show a theme of realism, one that gives a clear description of the Civil War and its outcomes.
Bierce, Ambrose. An Occurrence at Owl Creek. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2011.
Symonds, Craig. "American Civil War (1861-1865)." New York Times 8 April 2013.