One Summer Night by Ambrose Bierce: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:03 'One Summer Night': A…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Damon Barta

Damon has taught college English and has an MA in literature.

This lesson will provide a summary and analysis of Ambrose Bierce's short story 'One Summer Night', with particular attention paid to the ways that Bierce uses language to create a mood.

'One Summer Night': A Brief but Rich Tale

Ambrose Bierce's short story 'One Summer Night' is short indeed. It can be read in about five minutes. However, the effects of the story linger much longer. Let's take a look at what happens in this story and explore why it is so potent despite its length.


The story opens with the thoughts of a man named Henry Armstrong, who has been buried alive. He comes to terms with this fact fairly quickly. He is very ill and has become apathetic about whether he lives or dies. He falls asleep with no concern for his fate.

Meanwhile, above ground, a storm approaches as three men dig up the grave of Henry Armstrong. Two of the men are medical students and one of them is a cemetery employee named Jess. The narrator suggests that Jess has done this kind of thing before, and a horse and wagon waits outside the cemetery fence, presumably for the body of Armstrong.

The grave has only recently been filled in, so the men finish the job easily. When Jess unscrews the cover of the casket, Henry Armstrong sits up, and the two medical students run away terrified. Jess stays.

The students meet the next morning at the medical college and express their apprehension about what they saw. They find a familiar horse and wagon hitched behind the building near the dissecting room. When they enter the room, they find Jess, who demands to be paid. On a table lies the body of Henry Armstrong with a fresh head wound.


Bierce uses several literary devices to achieve some powerful effects. For example, he shifts narrative perspective in the middle of the story, moving from Henry Armstrong's thoughts and feelings to those of the men who are digging up his grave. This change in focalization allows us to compare the attitudes of the characters. This leaves us with some unsettling questions about them. Bierce evokes a mysterious and foreboding mood, a feeling experienced by the reader in response to Bierce's ominous language, or tone.

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