Culture As An Element Of Human Nature In An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

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The fundamental behaviors of culture and human-nature have been debated since the dawn of culture in itself; in terms of how humanity’s manifestation of culture arose and if it is instinctive in behavior or not. Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” cultivates this topic as Farquhar’s dream-sequence of events never actually occurred; which entertains the dilemma of this series of events deriving from pure human-nature or as a result of cultural-upbringing; or possible both. Joseph Carroll shows that Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” invokes the idea that culture is a set of human-universals acquired by society and genetics; however; Carroll fails to recognize that even though humans have been observed to naturally manifest culture overtime, it is not predisposed in our genetics to adopt a culture as it is not genetically hereditary and is instead a learned behavior in an individual’s lifetime. Culture is not inherently human-nature, in that culture does not change our genetic-makeup, does not change our primitive human-nature, and often steers contrary of what our human instincts would want us to do.

Based off of Joseph Carroll’s definition of culture, he states that culture is an assortment of different “human-universals”; “rites and rituals signaling different phases of life; “marriage” as publicly recognized right of exclusive sexual access; and myths and narratives describing the origins of a social group and the use of spoken language.” (3). Established by his definition, culture is an organization of different acquired behaviors that a society has acknowledged and attributed to different subject matters. As this is directly observed in society today, it is still up to question as to whether culture affects the human-genome and our physiology or not. Carroll also mentions in his “A Usable Model of Human Nature”, that “evolutionists in the humanities have increasingly developed the concept of “gene-culture co-evolution” (1). This idea states that humanity is genetically inclined to manifest a culture over an evolutionary time-scale that then alters the human-genome as well. As culture will inevitable manifest its presence amongst different human-populations, no substantial change is made in terms of genetics. As culture can and will change, people will not, in that they will resort to their natural-primitive behaviors instead of culture in the time of a dire situation resulting in either life-or-death. Regardless of culture, people will naturally gravitate towards what they need to do to survive, even if the scenario calls for socio-cultural norms to be broken as a result. This proves that cultural-change on an evolutionary timescale will not affect the human-genome in that people will act the same under similar circumstances like Farquhar did in the story.

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Joseph Carroll argues “We are both natural and cultural, and the two things intertwine. Culture is not what you get when you eliminate human nature; it is what you get when you combine evolved human motives and emotions with peculiarly human capacities for intellect and imagination – for language, the arts, religion, technology, ideology, and science.” (4). In regards to culture, no meaningful correlation can be made between culture and human-nature. Since the manifestation of culture does not occur in a lifetime but is instead a learned-behavior, some predisposed motives and desires may not be acceptable in one’s cultural background. Having this established, Carroll’s definition of culture being driven by human motives and emotions is a fallacy in itself as not everyone’s motives are the same.

Relating back to the “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, Farquhar’s imaginative redirect demonstrates that his culture still penetrated through his instinctive thoughts to avoid the reality he was about to face. Thoughts such as “He was probably already given the command to fire at will. God help me, I cannot dodge them all!” demonstrates that he still retains language expressions such as the military-terminology of “fire-at-will”, and the faith-based terminology of “God help me”. Such small minuet thoughts such as these still lingers in Farquhar’s mind even though those thoughts were caused by a traumatic situation in which he actually being hanged, while his mind is trying to escape what is actually happening. Since this imaginative segment, is not creative-based in that he did not think this ahead of time with given thought and effort, this was most certainly a result of his mind’s instinctive nature of survival.

Culture is not derived from human-nature as culture does not change the human-genome, does not change our primitive human-nature, and often steers contrary of what our human instincts would actually want us to do if it were culturally acceptable. As culture can and will manifest its presence amongst humanity overtime, no real change is made on the human-genome. Because of this, no significant conclusions can be made between culture and human-nature intertwining like Carroll argued. This is proven as our natural instincts will kick in if an event occurs in which cultural-social benefit becomes outshined by the need to attain necessities such as food, water, shelter which are absolutely crucial to our survival. Thus; Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” demonstrates a prime example of this as Farquhar’s hanging was a very dire circumstance in which all means of culture and creative thought were wiped out and replaced by survival-minded visions of escape even though it was only present in his mind as a means of adapting to the current situation at hand. 

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