Most English majors have probably come across “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, a story that’s known for leaving the reader somewhat speechless upon conclusion. Twist endings are what Bierce is known for and in my opinion, few can pull it off quite like he does. The only story of his that has an end more shocking than “Owl Creek” has to be “Chickamauga”, a print-out of which I nearly threw out the window after my first reading. It was that horrifying, but it was also that good.
I’m convinced that this kind of reaction was Bierce’s intention. Since Bierce was known for his sardonic sense of humor and his rather misanthropic tendencies, “Chickamauga” feels almost like his sick, twisted way of playing a joke on you. The same could be true of “Owl Creek”, “Coup de Grace”, “One of the Missing”, and his many other Civil War stories. As a veteran of that conflict, Bierce injects his prose with a disturbing authenticity and realism that was only just beginning to emerge within American literature. During my research on corporeal trauma in literature, he became one of my most important and influential sources.
As horrifying and offensive Bierce’s work can be, I always find a unique pleasure in reading him. I appreciate the blunt personality and merciless humor that radiates off the page. I also thank him for his unflinching illustration of trauma, in which he pushes the boundaries of rhetoric in order to describe the unspeakable realities of war. In his writing, he always seems to be sharing a very private part of his identity, one that only his readers are allowed access to. If you aren’t already, I encourage you to be one of them.