You can count on the fingers of one hand world writers who are able to compose a short story being emotionally and conceptually as valuable as a novel. One of them is Ambrose Bierce with his most valuable story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, originally published in 1890.
Origins in Bierce’s hard experience as a soldier can be easily seen through the whole story. Some critics even assume it to be an autobiographical one and it is hard to argue with them, since only those people who sensed death staring at them can describe it so believable.
The story tells us about last minutes of a man’s life who wanted to earn fame by blowing up a bridge without anyone’s help. He is caught and tied to the same bridge, but tension acquires its highest mark when suddenly the rope breaks and he is able to run back home. But when Peyton returns to his wife and is ready to embrace her, we understand that he is dead and it was only a phantom of his imagination.
What makes Bierce an outstanding writer is his ability to make his hero live for almost a day in his mind, while in fact his escape from death continued only for a few seconds. He focuses his attention on the thin string that still holds a person in this world and tries to imagine what he is thinking about at these last seconds. Though the popularity of the story can be explained not only by the realistic manner, in which the author expressed the feelings of the unsuccessful bridge-burner Peyton Farquhar, but mostly by his ability to describe his aspiring desire to live, which symbolizes never-ending hope of humanity and gloomy mockery of it.
Having seen death in all its manifestations at war, deeply deploring the loss of his friends and compatriots, Bierce still wants to understand what is going on in the mind of a dying person. Between the lines we can easily read bitterness and disagreement of foolish death in the name of fame.