Ambrose Bierce as fabulist: Controlling the moment



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Texas Tech University


This is a study of Ambrose Gwinett Bierce (1842-1914?), a journalist, satirist, and fiction writer during the last three decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century. As part of his narrative output, he turned to fables and produced over 300 of them, attracted to the fable form apparently because it offered him a medium for control of style, tone, and reader response. The control motif is incorporated thematically in many of the fables as well. Yet the control may be, and generally is, only for the moment: the rhetorical moment, the historical moment, or, perhaps, the epiphanic moment.

As a preliminary to an analysis of Bierce's use of the fable, this study begins with an attempt to identify the generally accepted characteristics of the fable, especially as the form has come down to us through representative written literature of Western civilization since the Middle Ages. The study then proceeds to examine Bierce's fables as devices for controlling a moment and to compare the fables with his invective satire and his short stories, in particular. The concluding section examines Bierce's use of the fable in contrast with two other nineteenth-century fabulists, Joel Chandler Harris and George Ade, and suggests that Bierce's techniques anticipated those of three twentieth-century fabulists, James Thurber, William March, and Robert Coover.

The study is organized into five chapters: (1) Introduction; (2) Fable: A Definition, synthesizing and distilling definitions from dictionaries, glossaries, and the works of fabulists themselves; (3) Ambrose Bierce: A Fabulist, exploring Bierce's own definition of fable and his satiric use of the fable; (4) Control: A Constant, suggesting that certain techniques or themes present in the fables are present in other Bierce works; and (5) Summary and Significance, contrasting Bierce as fabulist with two of his contemporaries and comparing him with three twentieth- century fabulists he anticipated.



Ambrose Bierce -- 1842-1914? -- Technique, American -- History and criticism, Fables