An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge: Literary Realism

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There has been much examination of the more popular terms used in American literature, such as romanticism and classicism, but little examination done on literary realism. Despite realism being mostly ignored in the late nineteenth century, it has now become commonplace in American literature. Although An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce does offer some examples of literary realism in its verisimilitude of detail and idealism, there were also many instances of fantastical imagery and an unrealistic sense of time, which is contradictory to literary realism.

To further demonstrate that An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge offers example both for and against the definitions of literary realism, this paper will be broken up into three main sections. The first section will define realism in two different ways. The second section will show evidence supporting the fact that An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is an example of literary realism. The third section will show evidence against this story being an example of literary realism. These sections will be followed by a work cited page and images of the literary works used as a reference in this paper.


Literary realism has been defined by George J. Becker in an essay called Modern Language Quarterly with three criteria: “verisimilitude of detail…an effort to approach the norm of experience…and an objective, so far as an artist can achieve objectivity, rather than a subjective or idealistic view of human nature and experience” (Pizer 1). This, however, is not the only definition of realism that exists. Donald Pizer proposed to define realism as is applied to the “late nineteenth-century American novel” (2). This is important ...

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Grattan, C. Hartley. Bitter Bierce. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc., 1966. Print.

Pizer, Donald. “Late Nineteenth-Century American Literary Realism.” Realism and

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Southern Illinois UP, 1984. 1-8. NetLibrary. Web. 30 March 2009.

Stoicheff, Peter. “Something Uncanny”: The Dream Structure In Ambrose Bierce’s ‘An

Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge’. ” Studies In Short Fiction 30.3 (1993): 349-358. Print.

Walz, Lawrence A. “Mary Henry’s Journey From Owl Creek Bridge.” Literature Film

Quarterly 23.4 (1995): 262-265. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.

Wiggins, Robert A. Ambrose Bierce. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1964. Print.

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