The short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” written by Ambrose Bierce is about the last minutes of a man who was condemned to hanging. Standing at the Owl Creek Bridge, the place of his execution, he never stops thinking about his family and plans his escape. Another story “The Jolly Corner” by Henry James tells about a man who came back to New York after being away for more than thirty years. He decides to tear down the house where his family lived and imagines how prosperous he could have been if he hadn’t left the city years ago. Some people keep to the point that these two stories are similar whereas others state that they differ in plot and structure. It is necessary to contrast the stories in order to find out differences and similarities between them.
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What should be mentioned above all is that the stories “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “The Jolly Corner” are similar in their theme. They both express the theme of an unlived life, or they life the characters could have had if certain events did not take place. For instance, the protagonist of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, Peyton Farquhar imagines his escape and plans what his life would be if he remained alive. He goes through these events as if they were a reality. He sees him diving into the water, crossing the forest near the river and returning to his house where his wife is waiting for him: “At the bottom of the steps she stands waiting, with a smile of ineffable joy, an attitude of matchless grace and dignity” (Bierce and Quirk 19). In reality, he lives through these events when falling through the bridge with the rope’s breaking his neck.
Likewise, the protagonist of “The Jolly Corner”, Spencer Brydon, believes in a ghost of a man he could have been if he hadn’t spent all his money when he was younger. This ghost, his alter ego, is living the life he wanted to have: “His ALTER EGO “walked” – that was the note of his image of him, while his image of his motive for his own odd pastime was the desire to waylay him and meet him” (James 85). He realizes his dreams through this ghost and confronts him when wandering around the house. Similar to Peyton Farquhar, he awakens and realizes that alter ego does not exist though he cannot state for sure whether he saw the ghost because he was unconscious or whether the events took place in his afterlife.
In contrast, the stories are different in plot and structure. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is divided in the parts when the protagonist is still alive; it has separate sections of his traveling when he is lost in his imagined world and the final part where the author discloses what happened in reality. “The Jolly Corner” is, in its turn, divided into numerous sections and it is difficult to state when the reality end and when the imagined begins. The difference in plot lies in Peyton Farquhar’s living through the imagined events unconsciously and these events were happening exactly with him, whereas Spencer Brydon realized that the ghost was living his life instead of him.
In conclusion, the two stories are indeed similar in themes because both the protagonists live a life they could have had but at this, they differ in plot and structure presenting the imagined events from different perspectives.
Bierce, A., Quirk, T. Tales of Soldiers and Civilians: And Other Stories. Penguin Classics, 2000.
James, H. The Beast in the Jungle and Other Stories. Courier Dover Publications, 1993.
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