Vivid Imagery in an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce and Regret by Kate Chopin
As defined by A Handbook of Literature, “a short story is a relatively brief fictional narrative in prose” (480). Every short story is different and unique. Evaluating them is a great way to find the differences. Even though they are all different, they are also very alike in the way which they unfold. Each and every short story starts with an introduction, which introduces the main characters and the settings. The introduction then leads to the rising action which is when the conflict starts to create tension. After the rising action always comes the climax which is when highest point of tension, is reached. Things then begin to unravel in the denouement only to end with the resolution which ties off all the loose ends. The two stories that I chose to evaluate are “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce and “Regret” by Kate Chopin. These two stories gripped my attention with their vivid imagery and their interesting conflicts. I chose to focus on these two criteria while evaluating the stories.
A Handbook of Literature defines a conflict as “the struggle that grows out of two opposing forces” (Harmon and Holman 115). Conflict is what makes a story so fascinating. Without conflict, there is no point in reading the story. Something which catches my attention is worth reading rather than something that puts me to sleep during the first paragraph. A story which keeps you at the edge of your seat wanting to know more and more is a good story in my terms. In the short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, the conflict is man vs. man. At the very beginning of the first paragraph, Ambrose Bierce writes, “A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees” (Bierce 1). The conflict is recognized very early on in the story as a man who is about to be hanged. After reading more of the story, we learn why he is to be hanged and the struggles in which he is coping with during this time. The first thing anyone would want to find out is why the character was about to be hanged. This short story keeps the interests of its audience by keeping them guessing. With the conflict being at the beginning, it also gives the reader a reason to keep reading. I was curious if he really did break free or if he was really just imagining.
In the short story “Regret”, the conflict is not introduced in the beginning of the first paragraph, instead we learn more about the main character before the conflict presents itself. About three paragraphs into the story, the conflict is made known. The main character, Mamzelle Aurlie, is a lonely woman who has never been loved or married. Her neighbor shows up one day on her front porch with all four of her children. Mamzelle Aurlie is practically forced to watch her neighbor’s children, since the childrens father was away in Texas and their mother had to visit her sick mother. Mamzelle Aurlie had no idea what to do or how to take care of these kids. The narrator states, “it took her some days to become accustomed to the laughing, the crying, the chattering that echoed through the house and around it all day long” (Chopin 3). This conflict is man vs. self. Mamzelle Aurlie did not have any clue what she was doing when her neighbor dropped her children off. This story, like the last, keeps your interests by keeping you guessing. I wanted to continue to read to find out how she dealt with this situation.
Imagery makes the reader feel like they are a part of the story. Providing vivid details of a person or an object makes for a better story. Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature describes imagery as “representation of objects, feelings, or ideas, either literally or through the use of figurative language” (581). When I read a story, I look for these types of details. The imagery makes the story more interesting and worth reading. In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, imagery is used all the way throughout, starting from the beginning paragraph all the way to the last sentence. For example, Ambrose Bierce writes, “his features were good—a straight nose, firm mouth, broad forehead, from which his long, dark hair was combed straight back, falling behind his ears to the collar of his well-fitting frock coat” (Bierce 1). This piece of information describes to the readers detailed features of the man. A couple of sentences later, the author goes into even more details of the man’s appearance. Ambrose Bierce states, “he wore a mustache and pointed beard, but no whiskers; his eyes were large and dark gray, and had a kindly expression which one would hardly have expected in one whose neck was in the hemp” (Bierce 1). Both of the sentences above give us a great mental image of the way this man looked. It specifically describes his features and paints a picture in our mind. The imagery in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” makes for a better and more interesting story.
The imagery in the short story “Regret” is not as descriptive as “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” The author describes the main character, but not enough to where the reader can paint an image in their head. Kate Chopin writes “Mamzelle Aurlie possessed a good strong figure, ruddy cheeks, hair that was changing from brown to gray, and a determined eye” (Chopin 1). This sentence gives us some sort of image, but does not allow us to fully understand what she looks like. Kate Chopin continues by saying “she wore a man’s hat about the farm, and an old blue army overcoat when it was cold, and sometimes top-boots” (Chopin 1). The reader is given a bit more information on how Mamzelle Aurlie dressed, but no more on the way she looked. I prefer more descriptive details so that I can have a better idea of how Mamzelle Aurlie looked. The imagery in this short story is another good example, however, it is not as specific as “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” When reading a story, I like to be able to picture everything that is going on. If not enough details are given, the reader may have a more difficult time visualizing the story.
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, is my favorite of the two short stories. The conflict in this story not only captured my attention, but kept my interest the whole way through. The imagery that was used in this story gave a clear image of how the main character looked and also portrayed the setting rather well. Both stories contained a conflict and imagery, however the story “Regret” lacked on details when describing the main character. The conflict in “Regret”, was interesting, but did not spark my interest as much as “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” The conflict was not as big or as exciting. Both stories succeeded in meeting my two criteria’s. However, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” was exactly what I look for in a story.
Each and every one of us have different opinions about everything. When it comes to short stories, we have all have different things that we look for. Some people would rather focus on something else besides conflict and imagery. After tearing apart these stories, and looking at them piece by piece, I got to see all the stories had to offer. Searching these short stories made it easy to detect the conflicts and the imagery that they had to offer. By paying close attention to details, I was able to chose which story met my personal criteria the best.
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