Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Author's Department


First Advisor

E. Victor Bobb


Ambrose Bierce exhibited a number of elements of existential thinking both in his life and in his writing. But he was ambivalent about his philosophical stance, and it is difficult to know whether he was the utter pessimist he has been called, or whether his attitude toward the universe admitted a certain optimism.

Much of Bierce's thought parallels modern existentialism, which has three main tenets: a belief that there is no God and the universe is, therefore, irrational; a descent into despair; and a choice of life or death.

Bierce insisted that the universe is irrational, and he repeatedly discussed the death, cruelty or mutability of God. His heroes often felt the Angst of existential despair, but Bierce remained ambivalent about the alternatives in such a chaotic universe.

Bierce's war stories illustrate "the existential moment" when the hero confronts the absurd universe. Many of Bierce's heroes commit suicide in despair, but a few choose a more meaningful death, a "finite transcendence" in the face of the irrational which results in a sort of affirmation of the power of mankind within a universe of chaos. This study examines two of these stories, "The Mocking-bird" and "A Son of the Gods," with reference to the existential thought they demonstrate.

Bierce was a proto-existentialist; his approach to the universe prefigured twentieth century existential thought, and within this framework, we find that he was not a complete pessimist, but that he discovered the very circumstances that would be the basis of optimistic existentialism in the twentieth century.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.