Monday, November 26, 2007

SHORT STORY MONDAY: classic stories

"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce

subtitle: Famous Short Stories I Have Never Read But Should Have
part 1 of many

I chose this story from my Norton Anthology because I remembered a reference to it from a Lost episode. The better read I become, the more allusions make sense to me. When you recognize the reference, it adds a whole other layer to the experience, and now that is making me very nervous for the whole Lost show, because this allusion makes the surrealness of Lost all the more explainable. I have to give away the ending to discuss this short story, because the ending is the story, and it is a twist, so if you haven't read this already, you better not read anymore.

"An Occurrence" takes place during the American Civil War, and describes in gory detail the hanging of a Confederate sympathizer who has been set up for capture. After Peyton falls off the bridge in the noose, it breaks and he hits the water, and manages an escape. After wandering the woods for a while, he finds his home, and this scene was the same scene as in the movie Gladiator, when Russell Crowe is dying and imagines his estate, with his wife as he runs to her just before he dies. The final scene in this story is as jarring as a noose breaking a neck.

I liked this story, it was easy to read, and as I read the explicit details of the hanging and what happened to the body, I felt the need to check the date of the story. It felt modern, and graphic, and I was very surprised to read the date as 1891. So violence and graphic descriptions aren't new to the last twenty years, they have always been around. I like knowing that this plot twist, so famous in many other shows and movies probably started with this story. Now I want to go back and rewatch all the references to "The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" that I never understood before. Especially that Lost episode.

Some pop culture references that I recognize: taken from Wikipedia

In 2005, Kurt Vonnegut referred to "Occurrence" in his book A Man Without a Country as one of the greatest works of American literature, and called anyone who hadn't read it a "twerp".
In 2006, Bierce's story was referenced on an episode of the ABC television series Lost entitled "The Long Con".
At the end of "My Occurrence", an episode of the TV series Scrubs, it becomes apparent that the lead character has imagined many of the events of the episode as he does not want to believe that a friend has cancer.


  1. Some of those Norton Anthologies are just the best.

    I love it when you read a certain story, or watch a certain movie, and then pick up on all the references that flew by before.

    I haven't read this story, but will be sure to do so now.

  2. OK. Now I know I have to read this one!! I'm a huge Lost fan, and I do actually remember the reference!!

    I think my favorite literary allusion was the book club scene at the beginning of Season 3. How cool to have Carrie as the book they were reading!!

  3. As a "Lost" nut, I think it is interesting that some books on the show are read (like "Watership Down") and some are just referred to (like this one). I don't know if that is significant or not, but I think it is interesting.

  4. john - Norton will do me for quite a while

    stephanie - I loved that they read Carrie. Another Gaiman? You are quite addicted.

    kookie - I should read Watership Down. They put so much into an episode that it is hard to know what is important. The TWoP boards go quite in depth - I can't keep up with them and all the theories.

  5. I try to keep up with the TwoP "Lost" boards, but those guys really know their stuff. I thought "Watership Down" was really boring, but I know I'm in the minority on that one. Sawyer liked it!


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