Sigmund Freud says that “a dream is a disguised fulfillment of a repressed wish”. What he means is that every dream represents a wish fulfillment. Dreams represent the imaginary fulfillment of a wish or impulse in early childhood, before such wishes have been repressed. The dream images represent the unconscious wishes or thought disguised through symbolization and other distorting mechanisms. Freud concluded that a dream is the conscious expression of an unconscious fantasy or wish which is not accessible to the individual existence. Here is an example that can relate to Freud’s dream theory and it’s in a short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce.
The story took place in a civil war era, and begins with an unidentified man being prepared to be hanged by a company of Union soldiers on a railroad bridge that runs over a river. He is then identified as Peyton Farquhar, a man who attempted to destroy the very bridge they are standing on based on information he was given by a Federal scout posing as a Confederate soldier. Although he is aware that it might cost him his life and also at the sacrifice of his family members, he was willing to do that, Peyton is being hanged for attempting to burn the bridge. The narrator vividly gives us a picture of the dilemma that Peyton is facing which symbolically shows us how he escaped death and was reborn right before he died. The author evokes sympathy from the reader for Peyton by showing the ultimate punishment he got.
Ambrose Bierce uses time as a way of manipulating the reader’s perspective. This distortion of the continuous forward motion of time disrupts the perception of reality. When the reader can no longer distinguish actual reality from a perceived reality, other character judgments come into question as well. The disruption of time allows the sequence of events in the story to be presented in a manner that forces the reader to question any assumptions made about Peyton Farquhar’s true character. By taking the reader through the mind of Peyton Farquhar during the moments prior to his death, his miraculous escape, and his sudden snap back into the present, the reader is left wondering about the true nature of time and the effect it has on the awareness of reality. Now let’s back track to Freud’s theory again, repression is a process of continual re-working on the latent dream thoughts to distort or unrecognizable forms.
The obscurity of dreams is due to the censorship between the unconsciousness and consciousness. That is why repression exists “What is rejected by the censorship is in a state of repression” (Freud) so dreams can be regarded as undisguised wish fulfillments. In Freud’s theory, there are two ideas developing in our brain, the first is in the unconscious and the second is to free access to the consciousness. In the middle of the first and the second, there is a control, which is a clashing power contradicting each other. It acts as a guard preventing certain repressed emotions or thoughts from coming to the surface. Ambrose Bierce continuously foreshadows the disruption of time and Peyton Farquhar’s upcoming death. The moments leading up to his hanging, Peyton’s reality begins to become distorted. “He became conscious of a new disturbance”. (Bierce 63) “A sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil”. (Bierce 64).
What should be an irrelevant background noise suddenly becomes extremely significant and loud. The author clearly expresses just how significant the few moments before death become. Death is a reality each and every individual must eventually accept. Having to face death in such a brutal manner leaves Peyton Farquhar reminiscent of his wife and home. “He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children”. (Bierce 66) The thoughts of escape begin to cloud Peyton’s mind. Until this point of the story, the reader begins to experience the pain and terror that must come from facing death. Although the events of his escape are surreal and improbable, because time flow is normally irreversible, the reader is continuously pushed forward into believing Peyton has actually survived his escape. Therefore, allowing time to continue uninterrupted, yet more intuitive.
The distortion of time and perception begin to distort the awareness of reality for the reader. Ambrose Bierce shows that time can be manipulated and elongated significantly by “highly emotional events”. The narrator’s description of an insignificant sound and how it comes the most abundant thought before death should make the reader question the subjectivity of not only time, but reality and truth as well.