How would a person describe themselves with one object, an object that defines who they are. The stories "An occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce is a story that plays on the cost of freedom, represented by a piece of driftwood. The second story "Assembly Line" by B. Traven shows a modest Mexican artist that puts his soul and mind into hand making baskets, to which he is hardly shown any pittance. The two connecting themes that these stories hold are the way that these objects symbolize the meaning and conflict of the antagonists. Bierce's story starts with a man that is faced immediately with death, a man that is literally hanging by a noose and supported by a blank of wood. On his sides are a captain and a soldier that are standing on the wood acting as the executioners. The wood comes to symbolize the ultimate demise for Farquhar's last moments, when he drops into the river a drift wood appears to him that is a symbol for the freedom he desperately reaches for. The story "Assembly Line" has an opportunistic American business man that sees a unique hand-made basket from a poor artist that is struggling to even sell the dozen baskets he makes to sell to the market weekly.
The Fluid Nature of Time
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is an elaborately devised commentary on the fluid nature of time. The story’s structure, which moves from the present to the past to what is revealed to be the imagined present, reflects this fluidity as well as the tension that exists among competing notions of time. The second section interrupts what at first appears to be the continuous flow of the execution taking place in the present moment. Poised on the edge of the bridge, Farquhar closes his eyes, a signal of his slipping into his own version of reality, one that is unburdened by any responsibility to laws of time. As the ticking of his watch slows and more time elapses between the strokes, Farquhar drifts into a timeless realm. When Farquhar imagines himself slipping into the water, Bierce compares him to a “vast pendulum,” immaterial and spinning wildly out of control. Here Farquhar drifts into a transitional space that is neither life nor death but a disembodied consciousness in a world with its own rules. In the brief window of time between the officer stepping off the plank and Farquhar’s actual death, time slows and alters to accommodate a comforting vision of Farquhar’s safe return to his family. Despite Farquhar’s manipulation of time, however, he cannot escape reality. Whether he lives a few moments or days longer, death ultimately claims him. Attempting to bend time to his own will is for naught. One of the most remarkable aspects of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is Bierce’s realistic rendering of Farquhar’s alternate conception of time, which suggests that the nature of time is to some extent subjective. The Blurred Line between Reality and Illusion
Reality and illusion operate side by side in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” and until the end of the story, we aren’t aware of any division between them—Farquhar’s illusion is, for us as readers, reality. Farquhar creates his fantasy world out of desperation: he is about to die, and imagining his escape is a way of regaining control over the facts of his current state. His mind supplies the flight and successful escape that his body cannot achieve on its own. In the second section, when we learn what brought Farquhar to this moment, this hybrid world of the real and fantastic is mirrored in the figure of the Northern scout. Disguised in the gray attire of a Confederate soldier, he projects one version of the truth while actually embodying another—reality and illusion are blurred. By the time the fantasy world of the third section is in full swing, we are fully immersed in Farquhar’s illusion, which has, for both him and us, become reality. Trying to distinguish one from the other is beside the point. Just as Farquhar’s belief that the Northern...
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