Essay on An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge' by Ambrose Bierce is a 19th
Century mystery story that is set at the time of the American Civil
War (1861-1865) when the Slave owning Confederate States in the South engaged in conflict with the Federal Government of the USA. The story focuses on a character called Peyton Farquhar, whom is about to be summarily hung for trespassing on the Owl Creek Bridge; his fate is to be hung from that same bridge. The story ends with a curious twist in the plot. The main part of the story is set in Farquhar's mind, though whilst reading the reader is unsure (despite careful, hidden hints placed by Bierce) of this fact. Only at the end when it is clearly…show more content…
He is creating this event as a fact by using the precise language of a military drill, for example "position known as support", "parade rest", "hammer resting on the forearm". These details have a thematic effect as well- one Bierce identifies explicitly. The goal of establishing the reality of the situation is reinforced by the geographical and political references, for example "Alabama", "Federal". The arrangement of the troops has a thematic significance as well; Bierce makes the meaning of the ordered ranks explicit.
The narrative tone is clearly sarcastic in the second paragraph ~
"Death is a dignitary..to be received with formal manifestations of respect", "in the code of military etiquette silence and fixity are forms of deference"; the army are liberal only in its distribution of suffering and death. By now Bierce's tone is established; dry, ironic, exact, almost pedantic~ the voice of a satirist.
In the third paragraph more about the condemned man is revealed.
Bierce uses detailed descriptions of the man ~ "his features were good- straight nose, firm mouth, broad forehead, from which his long dark hair was combed straight back, falling behind his ears to the collar of his well fitting frock". His purpose was for the mind to emphasize feelings more towards the condemned man. We learn he is a gentleman and Bierce makes it clear by
Peyton Farquhar, the protagonist of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” is a shadowy figure who eventually becomes a two-sided character in the story. Little is known about him beyond the class distinctions that make him a seemingly unlikely candidate for execution as a Confederate agitator. Farquhar is a son of privilege and Southern dandy, and his life of ease has done little to prepare him for the rigors faced among the front lines of the Civil War. In section II, we learn that vague circumstances had prevented Farquhar from enlisting in the Confederate army, leaving him desperate to contribute to the Southern cause and prove his devotion. Because he is so determined to achieve distinction, he is vulnerable to the trap set for him by the disguised Northern scout. Unprepared and foolish, Farquhar allows his desire for renown to lead him right into his captors’ hands. He has placed his own motives ahead of his responsibility to his family. Farquhar exhibits a damning gap between his true character and inflated perception of his abilities and role in the world.
The fantasized escape that runs counter to the actual execution in the story mirrors the gap between who Farquhar actually is and who he would like to be. In his world of illusion, he is able to outwit his captors and make it back to the family fold—whereas the reality of his situation is much more grim. Farquhar’s overindulgence of fantasy in both his image of himself and his reimagining of his fate ultimately undoes him. He cannot realize his desires in the real world, and at the end of his life, he is prey to the same delusions and misinterpretations that led him to the gallows to begin with.
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