A Distortion Of Reality In An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge By Ambrose Bierce

When reading stories, they can sometimes drag on making it difficult to make it to the end of the story. Ambrose Bierce cuts out those frustrations by flipping his short story and starting with the ending. Ambrose Bierce’s piece, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is well known for its flip in the sequences of events in the plot. Bierce grabs the audience’s attention by starting the short story off with the ending. The reader wants to understand the events leading up to the ending, causing them to read further. Bierce causes a distortion of reality in this short story.

The story follows the same plot outline that every story has: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. The difference in Bierce’s writing is how the reader has trouble distinguishing the reality from the distortion told due to the flipped, starts in the middle of things, also known as in media res. The exposition of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is when the reader is introduced to Owl Creek Bridge in Alabama. Peyton Farquhar is the protagonist, who is being guided to the middle of the bridge for his hanging. There is no introduction as to why he is being hung, but the reader must assume it was bad enough to lead to the end of his life. He is tied up and standing on one end of a plank with the sergeant standing on the other end as a counter balance, the only thing that is keeping him supported on the bridge. Bierce uses this particular image as the exposition to grab the reader’s attention, craving more. This is the difficulty that Farquhar faces, his own death. From there the story changes direction.

Bierce switches to the past, the introduction as to how Peyton Farquhar ended up sentenced to his execution. This is the rising action of the plot. A confederate soldier approaches Farquhar at his home. While Farquhar’s wife retrieves water for the solider, he tells Farquhar that the North has repaired railroads to get ready for their next move in the war. The solider said that the Union has reached as far as Owl Creek Bridge, but anyone who tries to interfere with their progress would be hung. This was later revealed to be a set-up, a Union solider disguised as a confederate soldier. This is the main conflict in the short story, when the union solider played Farquhar. The climax is where the mix in the story takes place.

Farquhar focused on his breathing while standing on the edge of the plank overhanging the bridge. He only hears his watch ticking, until the sergeant takes it away. The thoughts pass through his mind as to what he could do if only he could escape, go see his wife and son. He notices how slowly the river is flowing and how easily he could get away from the Union soldiers, if only he was free. He closes his eyes and hears the sergeant step off the other side of the plank tipping him off the bridge. This was Farquhar’s moment of truth, the climax. Suddenly, he feels a sharp pain all through his body. He realizes he is in the water, tries everything to break from the restrains, and break the water’s surface. He swims to the shore dodging bullets from the soldiers. This is the climax of the story that also had a twist, his wish to break free came true and he was doing everything he had originally planned. Bierce does a favorable job describing in detail the climax of the story, but this seems too good to be true.

Once Farquhar hits the shore, he sprints through the woods trying to beat the Union soldiers that follow him. Once Farquhar realizes he has lost the Union soldiers, he slows down. As he slows down, the pain from everything hits him at once. He is overwhelmed with pain coursing through his body with every step, and every breath he takes; he remembers his family, the only thing pushing him through this journey. This is the falling action of the story, Bierce uses this as the falling action to lead to Farquhar’s final destination, which is not with his wife in his arms.

Bierce ends his short story very abrupt. Farquhar opens his eyes only to realize that it was all distortion of his reality. He is still standing on the end of the plank with a rope around his neck, hands and feet tied up. He takes his last breath, feels a sharp pain running from his neck down his back. Farquhar is dead. Bierce’s resolution to the story is reality; there is no end to Farquhar’s story besides his own death. Bierce uses in media res to capture the readers and ending the story it the same way that was originally predicted from the exposition, in Farquhar’s death.

Bierce uses the plot and in media res very creatively. He wants to hold the reader’s attention to the story, so he flips the story into three parts. If the story was put in chronological order, he would not have held the anticipation as well. Even though “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is not in chronological order, it still follows the format of: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. The distortion of reality is the best grasp of the story, Bierce had the reader sitting on edge to see if Farquhar makes it home to his family, only for him to end up imagining the whole vision, still standing on the plank taking his last breath. 

10 Jun 2021
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