The 19th Century American Art described Naturalism as: Life imitating nature and the artists of this period began focusing on “real life” situations.  Naturalism literature began to flourish after the civil war and after the most loved Romanticism and Victorian literature.  Naturalism focuses on the lower to middle class man in which he is a futile figure of a domineering universe of a hostile nature.  Some sort of struggling for the fittest and the strong and predestined are the only sure winner.

The Ambrose Bierce story at Owl Creek Bridge is told by a third party narrator. For a simple reason that a man who is dead cannot narrate his own death?  It says nothing more of a man named Peyton Fahrquhar, a planter from a respected Alabama family; the author even distinguishes him as a gentleman which befits his physical appearance.  Despite of the man’s description, the person in the story seemed to die a futile death giving stress on the character of naturalism to which man is unimportant as quoted by the narrator below:

…“he  . . original secessionist  … devoted to the Southern cause. Circumstances of an imperious nature, which it is unnecessary to relate here, had . . . .army which had fought the disastrous campaigns … (Bierce, 2004)

Cynical, skeptical or mocking characteristics is vividly present along these lines, “To be hanged and drowned," he thought, "that is not so bad; but I do not wish to be shot. No; .. not be shot; that is not fair."(Bierce, 2004) The story dealt more on the agonizing death of a person but it was more descriptive than sentimental.  It is an unwanted way of dying and yet there is no reason to stop it.

The entire theme below is focused on someone who has experienced a few moments of life before death and another few moments after dying.  His soul seemed to search and in a way could not even tell he is really dead. The story of the life of Peyton is a step by step narrative about the ironies of violent death, as if a man could account of his own dying which can be paraphrased: “To die of hanging at the bottom of a river! -- the idea seemed to him ludicrous. He opened his eyes in the darkness …above him a gleam of light, but how inaccessible! He was still sinking, for the light became fainter ….mere glimmer.”(Bierce, 2004)

“His neck ached horribly; his brain was on fire, his heart, - fluttering faintly, gave a great leap, trying to force itself out at his mouth. His whole body was -  wrenched with an insupportable anguish! “(Bierce) 2004. The two lines below were skillfully drawn by the author and I must say that he has expertly given the most significant characteristic to the story by defining life and imitating nature.  He uses the forest and trees, even the detail of a leaf and those that inhabits it including the morning dewdrops.  He described nature just as he describes a new life that is to be unfolding. …”the forest on the bank of the stream - trees, the leave ,, veining of each leaf -- he saw the very insects … noted the prismatic colors in all the dewdrops …million blades of grass. The -  gnats that danced..the eddies . . . the beating of the dragon flies' wings, the strokes - water spiders' legs, like oars which had lifted their boat -- all these made audible music.”(Bierce)2004.

“A fish slid along beneath his eyes and he heard the rush of its body parting the water.”(Bierce) 2004. This brief sentence above almost completed the story the author wanted to conclude, that death has come and the heavens could be so near.  As if describing that the soul came out from the eye and it moves thru the waters.  Bierce in his few words was able to describe a real life situation which is one of the most interesting characteristic of a naturalistic piecework.   That after life naturally comes death. “Peyton Fahrquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side …beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge.”(Bierce) 2004.

Though the whole work is a literary genius, it leaves a mark of pessimism on the part of the reader. Pessimism in the sense that the character of the story was never given a chance. He was doomed simply because of a circumstance that is beyond the control of the person being told.  There was no hope but a dream or it could be real that the character’s soul transcended only to be able to look for his love ones. Even in this scene we can see that there is a big division.  There is desire to be with someone and yet the story emphasizes more on losing. The sad part of it is for an observer to have an impression that not all prayers are answered and an urgent question that need to be asked - where is God why did he allowed such fate?


Bierce,  2004 A. An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge [Electronic Version]. Retrieved 24 September 2007 from