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Narrrative Structure – ‘An Arrest’: story and questions

January 18, 2010

We will be examining the narrative structure using the following story as an example. Read it carefully and complete the activities at the end. Please note there is an optional extension activity.

An Arrest 

Ambrose Bierce

Having murdered his brother-in-law, Orrin Brower of Kentucky was a fugitive from justice. From the county jail where he had been confined to await his trial he had escaped by knocking down his jailer with an iron bar, robbing him of his keys and, opening the outer door, walking out into the night. The jailer being unarmed, Brower got no weapon with which to defend his recovered liberty. As soon as he was out of the town he had the folly to enter a forest; this was many years ago, when that region was wilder than it is now.

The night was pretty dark, with neither moon nor stars visible, and as Brower had never dwelt thereabout, and knew nothing of the lay of the land, he was, naturally, not long in losing himself. He could not have said if he were getting farther away from the town or going back to it–a most important matter to Orrin Brower. He knew that in either case a posse of citizens with a pack of bloodhounds would soon be on his track and his chance of escape was very slender; but he did not wish to assist in his own pursuit. Even an added hour of freedom was worth having.

Suddenly he emerged from the forest into an old road, and there before him saw, indistinctly, the figure of a man, motionless in the gloom. It was too late to retreat: the fugitive felt that at the first movement back toward the wood he would be, as he afterward explained, “filled with buckshot.” So the two stood there like trees, Brower nearly suffocated by the activity of his own heart; the other–the emotions of the other are not recorded.

A moment later–it may have been an hour–the moon sailed into a patch of unclouded sky and the hunted man saw that visible embodiment of Law lift an arm and point significantly toward and beyond him. He understood. Turning his back to his captor, he walked submissively away in the direction indicated, looking to neither the right nor the left; hardly daring to breathe, his head and back actually aching with a prophecy of buckshot.

Brower was as courageous a criminal as ever lived to be hanged; that was shown by the conditions of awful personal peril in which he had coolly killed his brother-in-law. It is needless to relate them here; they came out at his trial, and the revelation of his calmness in confronting them came near to saving his neck. But what would you have?–when a brave man is beaten, he submits.

So they pursued their journey jailward along the old road through the woods. Only once did Brower venture a turn of the head: just once, when he was in deep shadow and he knew that the other was in moonlight, he looked backward. His captor was Burton Duff, the jailer, as white as death and bearing upon his brow the livid mark of the iron bar. Orrin Brower had no further curiosity.

Eventually they entered the town, which was all alight, but deserted; only the women and children remained, and they were off the streets. Straight toward the jail the criminal held his way. Straight up to the main entrance he walked, laid his hand upon the knob of the heavy iron door, pushed it open without command, entered and found himself in the presence of a half-dozen armed men. Then he turned. Nobody else entered.

On a table in the corridor lay the dead body of Burton Duff.

Downloaded 29/01/09 from http://bierce.thefreelibrary.com/Present-At-A-Hanging-And-Other-Ghost-Stories/1-5

Questions and Activities 

  1. List the characters in the story.
  2. The writer has “told” you a lot about Orrin Brewer. What are his concerns and fears about the woods? Highlight the sentences that tell you.
  3. How does the opening sentence influence your response to the story? What does it indicate to the reader about the type and style of story?
  4. Bierce uses a series of similes and metaphors (using a different colour highlight the similes and metaphors)  to build up the mood of the story. How effective are these images in developing the atmosphere and suspense of the story?
  5. At what point does the story end? Could the story be extended past this point and, if so, how effective would it be?
  6. How long did it take to read this story?
  7. From your answers write down six “rules” that could be used to define a short story.

 

Extension Work

Write a 1 page story about why Brower murdered his brother-in-law. Ensure you look carefully at the descriptions of Brower’s character mentioned in the short story.

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