What does a person feel before death? Fear, panic, calm, hope, or maybe relief? First of all, pre-death feelings depend on a large number of factors: the emotional condition of a person, the circumstances of his or her life, the circumstances of death, and more. However, the range of thoughts and emotions that a present-day person may face before death does not differ significantly from those of our ancestors. Fear, struggle for life, and hope are encoded in human nature. In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Ambrose Bierce gives an elaborate description of the postmortem experience of Peyton Farquhar, a secessionist who was hanged by the Federals for attempting to burn their fortifications.
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However, it is his thoughts and feelings before death that matter. Farquhar fully understands what is happening. He is aware of his feelings. He notes every detail of his surroundings, and even the ambient sounds are entwined with his perception of imminent death: “What he heard was the ticking of his watch” (Bierce 5). Even if he fears, he calmly waits for his fate. All of his thoughts are devoted to his wife and children: Farquhar is happy to know that they are “still beyond the invader’s farthest advance” (Bierce 5). Sharp perception, increased sensitivity, dignified calm, and devotion to loved ones are the feelings that characterize this Civil War man before his death.
As stated above, although human nature has not changed over many centuries, there are certain differences in the way people perceive and apprehend things now. If a present-day person is not suicidal, he or she will also be afraid of death, want to live, and hope for the better. However, it is hard to imagine that someone would be capable of such calm and concentration before death. The reason is modern gadgets. Again, of course, it all depends on the circumstances and the person. However, the ubiquity of devices and social networks has diminished self-awareness among modern people. Nowadays there is a tendency to post but not analyze, to share but not think through. There are numerous examples of death posts, notes, and videos made by people in an agony of fear: the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Paris attacks, and the Carl Williams shooting, just to name a few.
The list is endless. Whether it’s good or bad is out of the question; this is the simple fact of present-day reality: death has ceased to be personal. With the advent of information technologies and the development of mass media, the human perception of death has changed. People tend to experience more superficial, chaotic emotions now. The present-day perception of death differs from the past one as panic differs from calm. One may argue that such a point of view is influenced by the form in which Farquhar’s feelings are presented. Bierce as an author has a particular aim: to produce an effect upon the reader. He uses various expressive means and stylistic devices to make the reader empathize with Farquhar. Although this may be true, the main condition of literary realism is an uncompromising representation of reality and a sense of authenticity. Thus, Farquhar’s emotions represent the true experience of a contemporary of the Civil War. Although human pre-death feelings have not differed over the course of time, the perception of death itself has indeed changed throughout generations, influenced by technical progress.
Bierce, Ambrose. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, 1988. PDF file. Web.