Ambrose Bierce wrote “The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” during the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth century. During this time period the two writing styles of romanticism, and realism were coming together.
This melding of styles was a result of the romantic period of writing and art coming to an end, just at realism was beginning to gain popularity. “The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is a perfect example of this transition of styles as it combines elements of both romanticism and realism to create a story that can be far-fetched while still believable at times.
While the story is based on a realistic plot, and even set up as a piece of historical fiction, it soon takes a drastic turn towards romanticism. When Peyton is hung off the bridge just as he is dropping to his death, the rope breaks letting him drop into the water and begin to escape by swimming for his life.
This action in itself illustrates classic romanticism, as it is highly unrealistic that Peyton would have survived the impact of the rope to his neck as he dropped off the bridge. This goes on further as he survives his plunge into the water, releases himself of the ropes which bound him, and then manages to swim away to safety while being shot at by a troop of soldiers.
Finally Peyton escapes the treacheries of the running river, and the chasing soldiers in an idealized, and abstract fashion (true to the characteristics of romanticism). He then runs through the forest in a desperate hope to keep away from the soldiers. After running quite a distance Peyton makes it to a farm, as he gets closer to the actual house he realizes it is his own, and he even sees his wife coming to greet him. In what looks to be a very emotional (not to mention unrealistic) ending Peyton runs to fall into his wife’s outreached arms.
However at this point realism kicks in as Peyton is snapped back into reality and she quickly disappears. He then drops the last few feet to his death, being hung off the Owl Creek Bridge. This very realistic ending shows the story in the end to be true, and that the events of Peyton escaping all took place in his mind.
This overall view of the story shows it to be quite surrealistic, while most of it was merely Peyton’s dream shortly before he died. But in the end “The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” proved to incorporate elements of realism, as Peyton’s death could have (and probably would have) happened.