In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and The Story of an Hour, the authors use similar techniques to create different tones, which in turn illicit very distinct reactions from the reader. Both use a third person narrator with a limited omniscient point of view to tell of a brief, yet significant period of time. In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Bierce uses this method to create an analytical tone to tell the story of Farquhar’s experience just before death. In The Story of an Hour, Chopin uses this method to create an involved, sympathetic tone to relay the story of Mrs. Mallard’s experience just before death. These stories can be compared on the basis of their similar points of view and conclusions as well as their different tones.
In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Ambrose Bierce recreates a few brief seconds of time for a man being executed whose cognition of these seconds is perceived as the better part of a full day. All that day he traveled? (paragraph 33). In The Story of an Hour, Kate Chopin relates a meaningful, yet unusual hour of time as the last one lived for a woman who has been given the news of her husband’s death in a railroad disaster (paragraph 2). She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment? (paragraph 3). Both stories are centered on the powerful emotions that occur within the minds of the characters as they live out the last moments of their lives. The narrators reveal the most intimate thoughts of each character.
In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Bierce focuses on detail and the dramatic revelation of Farquhar’s dying thoughts as he desperately tries to escape the hangmen. This creates a suspenseful journey that seems to see him freed from his noose and carried almost home to the loving arms of his wife. As these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the doomed man’s brain rather than evolved from it? (paragraph 7). This period of time in which we follow along in our minds seems to last through the day. In the end we find that the time was only in Farquhar’s head and was really only the last few seconds of his life as he saw it before the rope broke his neck. However, the hanging is not the most significant part of the story because Bierce’s third person narrator remains focused on the details of the perceived passing of the time rather than the action. Although the hanging is an action necessary to Farquhar’s experience, it remains in the shadows of the story, as we believe he escapes death and are drawn into his head to struggle with him towards home and freedom. This point of view entices the reader more deeply into the episode than would a less knowing point of view.
Bierce plays a mind game with the reader that explores an impossible reality. Although it is not conceivable to be inside someone’s head to experience his or her thoughts, Bierce’s narrator does a commendable job of creating a fictional, yet believable example of this impossibility. Bierce’s method allows the reader to become deeply intimate with the details of the profound occurrence of Farquhar’s death. He creates a plethora of explicit suffering which contributes to the analytical tone. The reader is almost able to feel his pain as he is tortured by the hanging process. His neck ached horribly; his brain was on fire; his heart?gave a great leap, trying to force itself out at his mouth (paragraph 19). This process of the systematic progression of events from the perceived moment of hanging to the perceived moment of almost achieving freedom creates a fantastic narrative.
In The Story of an Hour, Chopin also focuses on the experiences going on inside the character’s head, but in realistically measured time. An hour passes while Mrs. Mallard believes she has lost her husband and gained her freedom. The joy she feels as a result of his death is compelling, and she feels free, free, free (paragraph 11). Again, a third person narrator is responsible for relaying the story, but in this story Chopin creates a more sympathetic and involved situation between the reader and Mrs. Mallard than Bierce does in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. The narrator successfully creates a tone of sympathy for her because Mrs. Mallard’s struggle is an internal one between love and freedom. What could love?count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being (paragraph 15). The narrator’s point of view results in a more meaningful and compassionate connection for the reader with Mrs. Mallard rather than a penetrating analysis of her feelings. The details of her reaction to her husband’s death create an affectionate tone. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe that they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow creature (paragraph 14). The reader is pleased that she has escaped the oppression and suffering of her marriage. As it does not to Mrs. Mallard, it does not occur to the reader to question the disregard of conventional grief displayed by her feelings. She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her paragraph 12). The reader simply begins to feel akin with the joy Mrs. Mallard feels as a result of her new situation.
Similarly, each of these works ends with the death of the main character. The hanging in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge kills Farquhar and in The Story of an Hour, Mrs. Mallard dies of heart disease, though not for the reason thought by the doctors. When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease – of joy that kills (Paragraph 23). The reader knows that it was shock at finding her husband alive and not joy that killed her. The story begins with a mention of Mrs. Mallard’s heart condition, so her death is introduced as a possibility. Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death (paragraph 1). In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge there is also the imminent possibility of the protagonist’s death because the story opens with a description of the impending hanging. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head? (paragraph 1). Both writers manage to warn of death, yet the story lines that follow the warnings are able to steer thoughts away from death and falsely imply the characters might live happily ever after. It is this maneuver around the truth that results in great surprise at the end of each story when both main characters die.
Neither short story would have been as effective without the narrator revealing the thoughts of the protagonist. By emphasizing individual perspectives, the author’s shift the focus from the external action to the internal experiences of each protagonist. The power and depth of the ideas are successfully delivered because the reader is permitted insight into the characters’ thoughts. The analytical tone created by Bierce is a detailed and thorough examination of the character’s thoughts before her death while Chopin’s sympathetic tone is responsible for allowing the reader to feel affectionate for Mrs. Mallard’s plight prior to her death. Both stories arrive at these similar conclusions with opposing tones through the successful use of third person point of view.