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ERIC Number: ED346492
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 1992-Mar
Pages: 10
Abstractor: N/A
Reference Count: N/A
Using Bakhtin's Competing Voices To Interpret "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."
Bednar, Lucy
According to Mikhail Bakhtin, a 20th century Russian linguist and literacy critic, texts represent battlegrounds for competing voices, including the author's, the narrator's, and the characters'. This concept of "heteroglossia" can be applied to a short story such as Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," about the--as it turns out, hallucinatory--escape from execution of a Southern sympathizer named Peyton Farquhar during the Civil War. College students were asked to identify the various voices they heard in the text, according to Bakhtin's scheme. Bierce's story lends itself well to such a task, since it is divided into three sections, each of which has a distinctive predominant voice. In the first section, the dominant voice is that of the formal, military establishment, while in the third section, it is desperate and unreliable, reflecting Farquhar's racing thoughts and frantic clinging to life, while at the same time hinting at something dreamlike and unreal. Less easy to identify is the voice prevalent in the second section which expresses the romanticized view of military life that led Farquhar to become involved in the war to begin with. The juxtaposition of the three distinctive voices gives the story the added dimension of an indictment of a romanticized view of war. Further, the voices in the story are readily recognizable, and students can extend their observations about competing voices to include thematic concerns. A more complex use of Bakhtin's theory developed through the discussion as students began to identify the social forces behind the voices they identified. The film version of the story is also interesting because, while it contains almost no spoken dialogue, it is still possible to identify voices. Using the film in conjunction with the story can be instructive. Both versions can be connected to Bakhtin's ideas, thus highlighting a dimension of the story that is certainly there but not often emphasized. (HB)
Publication Type: Speeches/Meeting Papers; Opinion Papers
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A