In many of his stories, characters begin with the illusion of self-control and intellectual poise, only to have events deprive them of that illusion, leaving them quivering in abject fear before the prospect of death. Yet Searing continues his scouting expedition, going beyond his duty. He does not consider the ramifications of the dilapidated condition of the building he enters. For countless ages events had been so matching themselves together in that wondrous mosaic to some parts of which, dimly discernible, we give the name history, that the acts which he had in will would have marred the harmony of the pattern" Like most naturalists, however, Bierce concerns himself more with effects in his fiction than with causes.
Jerome Searing becomes interesting for Bierce not because he is fated to be killed, but because of the effect his impending death has on him. After a sudden cannon shot brings the outbuilding down upon Searing, he finds himself pinned by fallen timbers.
The story becomes, at this point, a study of the psychological reactions of a man facing his death. In a number of his stories, Bierce describes claustrophobic scenes to serve dramatic and thematic purposes; here Searing suffers a confinement that challenges his self-control.
In a terrific irony, Searing is trapped like a rat while real rats come out to roam free. Searing hopes they will at least wait until he is dead before they eat his face Although Searing has been a brave soldier in the past, his bravery manifested itself in physical activity. He had once charged a cannon, only to step aside before a fatal blast. His present circumstances, however, allow severely limited movement. Because his eyes are still free to move, he tries to look away from the bore of his rifle, but he cannot completely ignore it. It seems to move nearer while a pain in his forehead at the spot where the rifle is pointed rivets his attention on the muzzle.
Regaining his calm, Searing deliberately seeks to discharge the rifle and end his life. The reader is matter-of-factly informed that the rifle was no longer loaded, that it had been fired in the explosion. Bierce has slowed the narrative to give the impression of subjective time, making the reader feel as if Jerome has spent hours pinned beneath his own rifle, grappling with terror.
If time is a trap, subjectively it is an elastic one. As an individual, Jerome Searing has been erased; as was foretold in the first sentence, he has disappeared. His loss is predetermined and absolute. Like other naturalists, Bierce writes stories about hopeless struggle to reveal what for him is most compelling and truthful about human life. Cathy N. Philosophically, Bierce was also a naturalist. The dead-line is drawn at the gate of life; Man crosses it at birth.
The Complete Short Stories by Ambrose Bierce
His advent is a challenge to the entire pack — earthquake, storm, fire, flood, drought, heat, cold, wild beasts, venomous reptiles, noxious insects, bacilli, spectacular plague and velvet-footed household disease — all are fierce and tireless in pursuit. XI, Antepenultimata , Ross C. In , Bierce traveled to Mexico to gain a first-hand perspective on that country's ongoing revolution. While traveling with rebel troops, the elderly writer disappeared without a trace. Since the book is a compilation of short stories, there is not an overarching plot.
However, there are literary elements, or plot devices, that are shared throughout. Bierce's stories often begin mid-plot, with relevant details withheld until the end, where the dramatic resolution unfolds differently than expected, to a degree where most are considered twist endings.
His characters were described by George Sterling as: "His heroes, or rather victims, are lonely men, passing to unpredictable dooms, and hearing, from inaccessible crypts of space, the voices of unseen malevolencies. Bierce served as a union soldier during the Civil War and his experiences as a soldier served as an inspiration for his writing, particularly for the Soldiers section.
In this way, Bierce's war treatments anticipate and parallel Ernest Hemingway's later arrival, whereas the civilian tales later influence horror writers.
In the Midst of Life; Tales of Soldiers and Civilians
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