Literary Analysis Of “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge”  

Ambrose Bierce was the 18th century was a satirical writing and short story writer. In his works he always made his “cynical view of human life” known, therefore earning the name Bitter. A common theme found in many of Bierce’s short stories is the physical and mental journey associated with war. One example is the conflict between reality and illusion in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. The irony is a commonly found technique in Bierce’s stories. In this paper, I will showcase the many strong disconcerting blending of genres that plays with the distanced narrator examined the ending to have a shock value.

“Owl Creek” sets the place on a railroad bridge in Alabama during the infamous Civil War, which took place between the years of 1861 to 1865.

Peter Farquhar's dedication to the South at this time wanted to fight for the Confederacy. He suffers consequences the interference with the Union and sentenced to be hanged. Moving through the story it shows that he fully understood what he did wrong even in the injustices of his execution. In the end, it is brought to the reader’s attention that Farquhar did die although it said in the story that he escaped to his wife.

A symbol found in the story is the driftwood he focuses on while being in the process of being hanged. The driftwood symbolizes freedom. He beings to imagine himself as driftwood through the water and the fantasy of his escape depends on the stream. In his reality, he takes the plunge as if he was the driftwood.

However, the driftwood is what brought him in this situation. If it weren’t for the driftwood he would have his freedom. Owl Creek Bridge is the most frequent symbol throughout the story. The bridge symbolizes a connection between life and death for Farquhar. It’s the place he attempts to burn and the platform where he is sentenced to death.

The themes in this story can be a puzzle when reading it only once. Denying reality to protect oneself is shown throughout the story. Just like the South denies slavery’s evils in order to retain its pride, Farquhar denies what is actually happening and imagines an escape for himself. The other main theme is the blurred line between reality and illusion. The author, Ambrose Bierce, really tries to deceive the reader by making them believe that Peyton Farquhar, the main character, really escaped his close call with death. It is not to the end until we find out that it was all in Farquhar’s head while the few seconds before his death. This ties with the illusion of wanting something to happen before reality meets fate.

One last theme is exploring the idea of time. Peyton's escape seems to be lengthy and drawn out. The hallucination actually occurs in the span of seconds.

This is a great example of a short story as it doesn’t take long to figure out the conflict around the main character. Man vs Himself is one that Farquhar is imagining what he wants to happen. ”I might throw off the noose and spring into the stream.

By diving I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, reach the bank, take to the woods and getaway home. My home, thank God, is as yet outside their lines; my wife and little ones are still beyond the invader’s farthest advance. ”(Page 1) Fighting with himself made it impossible to ever be free from the Union’s reach. Foreshadowing is used to create more suspense in the story, or to make the reader think about what's next. This helps make the story more enjoyable to read and easier to follow. ”He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed, preternaturally keen and alert. ”(Page 5) As Farquhar is supposedly “escaping” he notices things that normally most people do not see or hear, especially, if their main focus is to escape. The most interesting thing about this story was how real it felt when reading it. Imagery provided a picture of every scene so the reader has a better understanding of what’s going on. This helps further explain the story in a different way, by giving you a picture to think about.

10 October 2020
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