The Moonlit Road and Other Ghost and Horror Stories

The Moonlit Road and Other Ghost and Horror Stories Literary Elements


Horror; Literature

Setting and Context

Numerous locations around America during the 19th century

Narrator and Point of View

Each story has a different narrator, and is generally told in first person. See each individual story summary for details about the narrator and point of view.

Tone and Mood

The tone and mood of the stories in this collection is generally marked by dread and foreboding. Bierce, however, often inserts wry observations even into the darkest of tales.

Protagonist and Antagonist

See each individual story summary for more information about protagonists and antagonists.

Major Conflict

The primary conflict in the stories is between human beings and each other, nature, or the supernatural. See each individual story summary for more information.


The climax of each story is often a twist ending. See each individual story summary for more details.


There are numerous examples of foreshadowing; this is one of the most prominent literacy devices used in this short story collection, as it creates a sense of dread and foreboding.

One example of foreboding occurs during "The Moonlit Road." Joel Hetman Jr. notes that Joel Sr. was "passionately attached [to his wife] with what I now know to have been a jealous and exacting devotion" (10). It is later revealed that Joel Sr. murdered his wife when he thought she had taken a lover. This passage highlights Joel Sr.'s jealousy, and suggests that it played a role in his wife's death.


"There were evidences of 'improvement' —a few acres of ground immediately about the house had once been cleared of its trees, the decayed stumps of which were half concealed by the new growth that had been suffered to repair the ravage wrought by the ax." (18; "The Boarded Window"). Though Murlock has lost his wife, he still attempts to make his farm habitable and prosperous.


"As to me, I was younger then than now —there is much in that. Youth is Gilead, in which is balm for every wound." (11; "The Moonlit Road")

As Joel Hetman Jr. mourns his mother's death, he observes that youth is like the balm of Gilead. This is a biblical reference to Jeremiah 8:22, which references the area of Gilead, well known for its healing salves.


See Imagery section.


"Everyone who has had experience in the matter must have observed that one confronts the actual and imaginary perils of the night with far less apprehension in the open air than in a house with an open doorway." (29; "The Secret of Macarger's Gulch")

Peculiarly, Elderson finds that he is less fearful outside than he is inside a house. This is paradoxical, since there is usually less to fear when one is safely sheltered than when one is outdoors.


In "A Holy Terror," Mary Matthews and Jefferson Doman experience parallel cases of mistaken identity. Jefferson Doman realizes the gold vein is buried under the grave of a scarred-faced woman, and cannot help but wonder if this might be his own Mary Matthews. When he tries to discern this fact, he dies in terror from having the corpse fall on him. Later, Mary Matthews comes to the same camp with the millionaire she has married, and ends up finding the remains of Jefferson, which causes her such grief and horror that she instantly dies. In Jefferson's case, he thought he had found Mary, but died; in Mary's case, she had actually found Jefferson, but she died anyway.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

"Should the monster follow, the taste which had plastered the walls with paintings had consistently supplied a rack of murderous Oriental weapons from which he could snatch one to suit the occasion." (25; "The Man and the Snake")

The odd taste of Dr. Druring has caused him to decorate the walls with exotic swords. This is an example of synecdoche, in which a part of something (in this case, Dr. Druring's taste in home decor) stands in for the whole (Dr. Druring himself).


"Grief is an artist of powers as various as the instruments upon which he plays his dirges for the dead, evoking from some the sharpest, shrillest notes, from others the low, grave chords that throb recurrent like the slow beating of a distant drum. Some natures it startles; some it stupefies." (20; "The Boarded Window")

As Murlock mourns his dead wife, he is filled with grief. This quote likens grief to an artist, which draws differing reactions from people just as a musician draws different sounds from instruments.