‘A Resumed Identity’ by Ambrose Bierce

Bierce, Ambrose 1908

A Resumed Identity by Ambrose Bierce, 1908

The magic trick:

Using the supernatural to create a haunting image of war and memory

All week we’ve looked at Ambrose Bierce stories that use the supernatural to spine-chilling effect. Today’s feature, “A Resumed Identity,” is a much different kind of story. Today we veer back into Bierce’s Civil War territory, and though the man can write a mean ghost story, this reminds us that his true gift lay in crafting beautiful war literature.

Written while the author was on a personal tour of the old battlefields on which he fought five decades prior, the theme of haunted and confused memory must have been at the front of his mind. In “Identity,” Bierce uses the supernatural and the results are spine chilling. But the point is far more powerful than simple fun scares. These are very serious ideas about the horrors of war and its impact on soldiers’ lives. And that’s quite a trick on Bierce’s part.

The selection:

Puzzled before, he was now inexpressibly astonished. So swift a passing of so slow an army! — he could not comprehend it. Minute after minute passed unnoted; he had lost his sense of time. He sought with a terrible earnestness a solution of the mystery, but sought in vain. When at last he roused himself from his abstraction the sun’s rim was visible above the hills, but in the new conditions he found no other light than that of day; his understanding was involved as darkly in doubt as before.

On every side lay cultivated fields showing no sign of war and war’s ravages. From the chimneys of the farmhouses thin ascensions of blue smoke signalled preparations for a day’s peaceful toil. Having stilled its immemorial allocution to the moon, the watch-dog was assisting a negro who, prefixing a team of mules to the plough, was flatting and sharping contentedly at his task. The hero of this tale stared stupidly at the pastoral picture as if he had never seen such a thing in all his life; then he put his hand to his head, passed it through his hair and, withdrawing it, attentively considered the palm — a singular thing to do. Apparently reassured by the act, he walked confidently toward the road.

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