‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ by Ambrose Bierce and ‘The Red Convertible’ by Louise Erdrich both recount sorrowful tales of men during times of war. The stories differ in that ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ is a story written in reverse, where the readers do not truly know the plot until the end- whereas ‘The Red Convertible’ is just a man recounting the story of his long lost brother. However despite their differences, both of the stories continue to build up hope in the reader only to find nothing but a sorrowful story at the end.
‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ by Ambrose Bierce was a short story written in 1890s that revolves around a confederate supporter during the Civil War. Peyton Farqhuar is a man living in the south who proudly displays his support for the confederacy and the cause of the South.
Farqhuar was captured by Union soldiers for his display of Southern pride. He is unfairly, and barely, tried, before being sentenced to be hung. His punishment was to be carried out at the Owl Street bridge, where the reader is thrust into the thoughts of Farqhar. At the end of the first section of the story, Bierce uses this quote to illustrate the foreshadowing of the doom to come: “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 the captain nodded to the sergeant. The sergeant stepped aside.”
When Farqhuar was hung from Owl Creek Bridge, the reader is carried through his journey of escaping the soldiers after the rope snaps. Bierce surprises readers at the end when Farqhuar, who thinks he has escaped capture by the Union army, is running towards his wife and everything fades to black, although again, the ending was foreshadowed when, before Farqhuar fell to his death, Bierce called him a “vast pendulum”–swinging back and forth on his rope of death. This is illustrated in the quote, second paragraph from the end, when Bierce wrote: ”Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him.”
In reality, Farqhuar died when his neck broke during the fall. The entire story was just a snapshot that occurred in his mind before his death. Ambrose Bierce purposefully continues to build the anticipation that the devout Union soldier had escaped, only to drop the reader into a tale of demise and overall doom.
‘The Red Convertible’ by Louise Endrich was written in 1984 and revolves around a Vietnam veteran and his brother. Lyman Lamartine is a young man whose brother has just returned from the Vietnam War and has been traumatized by what he had seen overseas.
Before the war, Lyman and his brother Henry were extremely close. Before Henry departed for the war, and as Lyman recounts in the story, the two bonded over a red convertible. This car proves to be symbolic, both throughout, and at the end of the story, due to the change in Henry’s behavior, illustrated by this quote from when Henry returns: “We had always been together before. But he was such a loner now that I didn’t know how to take it.”
When Henry returns, he has no desire to ride in the red convertible, no desire to wear the bright colored clothes he used to dawn– instead Henry just liked to sit around and sob about the war. The quote from the middle of the story, speaking about the television, and how Henry just sat “in front of it, watching it, and that was the only time he was completely still…” Lyman thought that if he restored the old convertible the two used to ride around in, then the brothers would rekindle their relationship. Henry’s change in attitude, clearly a central theme in the story, is best illustrated by this quote from the middle of the story: “He’d always had a joke, then, too, and now you couldn’t get him to laugh, or when he did it was more the sound of a man choking, a sound that stopped up the throats of other people around him. They got to leaving him alone most of the time, and I didn’t blame them. It was a fact: Henry was jumpy and mean.”
Lyman worked day in and day out to repair that rusty old convertible, in hopes of improving his brother’s condition. When it was all fixed up the brothers went for a ride like the good old days. They stopped along the river and sat down to talk. Henry decided to go for swim.
When he jumped in, the current took him away and even though Lyman tried to save his brother, it was no hope. The story ends with Lyman sending the red convertible into the river to float away with Henry.
Although Farqhuar doesn’t actually live out the story of him swimming through the river, running through the woods then running towards the loving arms of his wife, his story is very similar to Henry’s, who was a happy boy who came back from war traumatized, then right when the author had readers thinking he was going to be ok, he dies. Although very different, both stories were well written and convey powerful stories that evoke strong emotions in the readers.