The characters in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" through the plot and their points-of-view provide insight to different interpretations of death. The authors do a fantastic job creating vibrant and unique scenes using a full range of important literary devices.
Although both stories provide interpretation of death, they are based on different themes. Each character experiences death differently. The first story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" focuses on the fluid nature of time and the blurred line between reality and illusion, whereas the second one "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" is written around the usefulness of denial theme.
The setting is very important in a story, because the right environment gives us the right feeling while reading the story. Places or objects surrounding characters play a very important role as well. The action of the first story takes place on a railroad bridge during the Civil War in the US, a little after the Battle of Corinth in northern Mississippi. The surroundings of the creek are also described telling us that on one side there was a thick forest and on the other side a company of Union soldiers. On the bridge there were Union soldiers, ready to execute a man with a rope around his neck.
The action of the second story takes place in the bedroom of Granny’s daughter, Cornelia. The main character, Granny, an eighty-year old woman, is lying in the bed face up dying. The illness she is suffering from is not disclosed in the story. The action happens probably in the late 1920s, but Granny has flashbacks dating back to 1860s, when she was jilted at the altar by her fiancé George.
The fluid nature of time is reflected by the structure of the story. It moves from the present to the past and then back to a present, but to the imagined one. Although there should be continuity in the story, the second section interrupts it. While Farquhar was on the edge of the bridge he closed his eyes, slipping into a reality of his own. This is also accompanied by the ticking of his watch that becomes slower and slower. When Farquhar imagines that he managed to escape, the author compares him to a “vast pendulum”, making him immaterial and spinning out of control. Although it was only a second between the sergeant stepping off the plank and Farquhar’s death, the time is represented as having slowed down due to Farquhar’s desire to alter time, to return safely to his family. However, he cannot deceive time and the reality caught him. This way the author showed us that the concept of time is subjective.
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Another remarkable aspect of this story is how reality and illusion appear in the plot. The reader cannot tell the difference between them until the end, because what Farquhar’s dreaming about is reality for a reader. Instead of panicking, knowing he is about to die, he created a fantasy world in which he escaped and managed to get home to his wife. Also, if we think about the moment that brought to his execution, we see that reality and illusion are blurred then as well. That time Farquhar also believed that the Northern scout was a Confederate soldier, just like he thought he was swimming on his way home. And just as the first belief, the first moment led him to execution. The illusion of escaping had one outcome, while in reality he was in fact dead.
The usefulness of denial theme is represented in the second story "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall", where the main character refuses to believe and admit the truth about her life. Granny Weatherall keeps thinking about her life and about George, the man who jilted her at the altar, although she is trying to tell to herself what a wonderful life she had with John. Also, in her denial Granny fails to admit how hard she was on her children and how badly she treated Cornelia. Because of the fact that Granny ignored that she was broken-hearted since the day George didn’t show up at the altar, she managed to fight through her life, raise her children and save many lives. Granny has all these regrets, but fails to apologize to anyone, mostly due to the fact that she refuses to believe that she is dying. Only during the last minutes she understands the reality, but her mind is still so focused on bad things in her life, that she did not have a chance to say something good. Granny died in sorrow feeling jilted again, waiting for a sign from God that did not come.
In terms of motifs, in the first story we find the motif of distorted sensory experience, described when Farquhar was slipping outside time and his physical body. All he was during those last moments was a chain of sensory impressions that helped him create his illusion of escaping. The distortion of reality is presented by what Farquhar thinks he sees and hears, like the grey eye of the marksman. The author beautifully described how Farquhar noticed a time lag between the sound made by the cannon being fired and the arrival of the shot. Basically, all that Farquhar experiences in the story is a distorted reality, created by him to escape the thought of his inevitable death.
As for the second story, "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall", the motif is waste, depicted by Granny’s fixation on not wasting food and extended to the fact that she feels her life was a waste, because food is a symbol of life. She kept warning her children about fruits that are going to waste and about other things that can be lost. This all results from the fact that Granny did not have much money, and yet she managed to support her family in all ways she could. The fear of wasting food, like those fruits or her wedding cake, suggests the fact that she is actually sad because she lost the man she loved the most, George. This is the reason why she feels like her life was a waste and she doesn’t want her children to experience the same sadness as she.
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Both stories have a different color as a symbol, which appears throughout the text. In the first one, the symbol is the color gray, which basically suggests the vague line between reality and illusion, the key of the story. Gray is the color of the Confederacy, the reason why Farquhar sacrifices himself when the “gray clad” appears in the second section. Still, as we know, that man was not really a Confederate soldier, so that moment was also a distortion of the truth. The sky was also gray in the beginning of Farquhar’s imagined escape. The author tells us that the character’s eyes were gray, same as the eyes of the sentinel aiming at him, as it is described that Farquhar saw. It is obvious that he could not see that detail through the rifle’s sight, therefore this part is described in the story to establish a connection between Farquhar and the person aiming at him. All these things only delineate the main character’s slipping away from reality.
On "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" the symbol is the color blue, symbolizing all the stages of Granny’s life. The first time the color blue appears in the story is when she remembers her tidy household and visualizes white jars with blue letters for identifying the content. The connection between the blue letters on the jars and her life is that at that stage of life she could impose order, being youthful and full of energy, the head of the household.
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The color blue appears again representing another stage of her life, the one when her children were ready to enter the world on their own. This moment is represented by Granny remembering how her children watched her lighting the lamps when the night came. Granny also remembers the time she was jilted and tries to keep herself strong while “streamers of blue-gray light” fall on her eyes, making her frustrated and worrying about nightmares. That light represents the moment of her life when it was full of problems. Also, the color blue appears when she talks about a picture of John, her husband. He had blue eyes, but a photographer made his eyes black. Although it was a good picture, Granny doesn’t feel that it represents her husband, suggesting that she still feels that she married the wrong man. Another time when blue appears in the story as a symbol is when Granny thinks about Cornelia’s lampshades and how foolish she thinks they are turning the light blue. This stage of Granny’s life represents the world that has passed her by. The color blue is present until the end of her life, becoming the color of her own mind as she was dying.
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In conclusion, these two different stories share the same major theme: death and how it is represented in two different persons. The first one chose to imagine what he wanted the most: to get back to his family, understanding that he is going to die. In those hard moments when he knew his ending is close, he tried to bend the time and create a fantasy world in which everything is good. He did this to escape the pain he had to go through, especially since he was executed for a foolish mistake he made. The second character, although a strong woman who managed to get past all the difficulties in her life and raise her children alone, take care of the house and save the life of so many people and animals, kept suffering from something that happened in the past, sixty years ago. Her beloved one, the one she was supposed to get married to, George, did not show up to the wedding day and although she kept saying that she forgot him, this was obviously not true, since he was present in her mind even during her last moments. She did not want to accept the fact that she was dying and kept remembering important moments from her life, symbolic ones. She tried to convince herself that she had a good life, a good husband and she didn’t need George, but her thoughts always went back to him. When she realized she was dying, she waited for a sign from God to save her, but the sign never came. She died broken-hearted, full of sorrow, feeling that she was jilted again, this time by God, and that her entire life was a waste.
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