Plot Summary And Analysis Of Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is a short story written by Ambrose Bierce in 1890, the story depicts a theme of illusion versus reality, thus creating a vivid plot twist for readers. The short story is divided into three sections. The first section opens on the impending execution of Peyton Farquhar. Then we have the second which tells us more about Payton's life and why he's in the situation he's in, but also the crucial moments leading up to his death. Finally the third section, also the longest and most entertaining part for readers, is where he begins fantasizing. Some, and myself included would even call this story suspenseful because of the flashbacks, setting, and how the use of Peyton’s senses create such effectiveness in telling the story.

The story takes place in Nothern Alabama during the American Civil War. Throughout the story, the author uses flashbacks to describe the lifestyle Peyton Farquhar lived. As the story describes Peyton’s life and work, they tell of how he is “a well-to-do planter, as well as a slave owner who is devoted to the Southern cause” The main character In the story as yu can tell is Farquhar and he is convicted for presumably treason by the union soldiers when he is caught trying to help the Confederates. The suspense begins when a soldier arrives to Faquars home asking for a drink of water. He also tells Peyton, “The Yanks are repairing the railroads…any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its bridges, tunnels or trains will be summarily hanged”. So knowing that this soldier is a Federal scout from up north is not good for Peyton because he is a Southern Plantation owner so it builds suspense between these two people who have entirely different viewpoints of “what is right”.

The setting takes place in a familiar forest on a railroad bridge and beneath it a rushing creek. It begins with Farquar and his executioners on the railroad bridge. Ambrose Bierce continuously foreshadows the disruption of time and Peyton Farquhar’s upcoming death. We can tell because Bierce goes into great detail about the bridge and the surrounding landscape, and he uses his protagonist's heightened senses to observe and describe this setting. Peyton Farquhar only hears “the ticking of his watch.” This distinct reference to time gives the reader a moment to ponder just how many ticks of Peyton’s watch actually occur during the upcoming sequence. Another detail that is conveying a hint of foreshadowing is the voice of the union caption when Farquar is in the water, it’s slowed down and very demonic. Another hint similar to the one before is a song that is played each time it seems that Peyton is really going to be free, the lyrics talk about how he's a “livin man”.

So at this point we are entering part three and Farquar is now entering his Fantasy from the moment he falls into the creek until the moment his fingertips grasp his wife. Now the reason behind this fantasy is nothing crazy or mind blowing, being killed in such a brutal manner leaves Peyton Farquhar reminiscent of his wife and home. Now taking a step back, while Peyton is awaiting his own death the noose around his neck is adjusted he takes a look around to find someone who could help him escape, but “nobody was in sight; the railroad ran straightaway into a forest for a hundred yards, then, curving, was lost to view”. Ambros then begins so show us that he feels his life is over soon like I mentioned in the other hints, “He looked a moment at his “unstead-fast footing”, then let his gaze wander to the swirling water”. But over the bridge he hears a noise, “striking through the thought of his dear ones was a sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil; it had the same ringing quality” Then, just as his body begins to drop, the hemp rope breaks, and Peyton falls into the water. We watch as he frantically tries to free his bound hands and legs underwater. Here his senses begin to broaden while he struggles to escape the voices of the soldiers are slowed down and His senses are awaken as he comes to the surface and feels the “ripples upon his face and heard their separate sounds as they stuck”. his journey home takes him through a seemingly unfamiliar landscape. A forest in Alabama becomes a threatening, eerie dreamscape as Farquhar moves toward death. Another hint along the theme of his senses is his vision, Farquhar notices that the marksman’s eyes are gray despite being a long distance away, in a great deal of pain, and swimming madly for his life. The idea that such a detail could be perceived in such circumstances is far-fetched and stresses how “supernatural” Farquhar’s senses have become. After we think he has escaped he begins to have thoses visions of his wife reply through his mind. Its as if Peyton Farquar really hasnt come to terms with his death. The last moments of his fantasy he never gets that real satisfaction with his wife. We can relate to this if somebody were to wake us up right before the grand ending of your dream. Peyton is just about to hug his wife in their yard before the noose snaps Peyton's neck and he plunges.

Ambroses then takes us back to reality and the story shows us the opposite of what happened, that is he never escaped the bridge after all. Here is a line from the end of the story, “all is darkness and silence!” “Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge.” 

10 Jun 2021
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