An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge
The Concept of Illusion Versus Reality in Ambrose Bierce’s an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce gives an interesting, yet disturbing theme of illusion versus reality. This theme intrigues me more than the other short stories that I have read. The story has a simple plot of a man during the American Civil War about to be executed, but the shock end is what makes the work truly shine, not to mention deeper meanings behind the text. The work also contains detailed descriptions of the setting and various scenes that occur throughout the story.
Ambrose Bierce starts the story off by having the protagonist stand on a bridge with a noose around his neck. This hook at the beginning is sure to grab a reader’s attention. Surrounding the protagonist are the Union soldiers that are preparing his execution. Bierce describes just about everything that is going on at the bridge. He writes about each Union soldier and what they are doing during this intense moment. Bierce also tells of what is around the men, such as the railroad, an outpost, and a bunch of vertical trees. Details make a story much more vivid.
The protagonist is minutes away from death. He starts to hear sharp noises that get progressively longer and louder. The protagonist finds out that the noises are the ticks of his watch. I believe this is an important event in the story because the protagonist is at his final moments. The ticks get slower, which shows that time is slowing. It is a frightening moment for him, and it is almost as if he is desperate to avoid death by trying to make time slowdown in his thoughts. This is the first instance of illusion versus reality.
The story then cuts to a time before the execution. A man by the name of Peyton Farquhar is introduced in the work. He is a planter, a politician, and a patriot to the Southern cause. Peyton and his wife encounter a soldier in a confederate uniform. The soldier tells Peyton about an opportunity to burn the Owl Creek Bridge to hinder the Union advance. Peyton is eager to carry the plan into motion, but what he did not know is that the confederate soldier is actually a Union scout. Now it is known that Peyton is the protagonist.
The plot goes back to the bridge. The sergeant steps off the plank, and Peyton falls. Miraculously, the rope breaks, and Peyton crashes into the river. He is now swimming away from the Union soldiers that are firing at him. This is when Bierce goes into more detail. Peyton can see the veins of leaves and the insects that are on them. He can hear the flaps of wings and the spiders in the water. Peyton could even see the gray eye of the sniper on the bridge. His senses are strong to the point that they are unreal.
After evading more gunfire, Peyton lands on the gravel at the foot of the stream. He is happy to see the sand, as if he saw jewels. The trees were like garden plants with a blooming fragrance. Peyton escapes death, and starts to value life far more than he did before. However, the Union is still on his trail. Peyton’s journey is not over yet.
After traveling a good distance, Peyton is fatigued. He finally arrives home, where his wife is waiting for him. Filled with joy, Peyton runs to his wife with his arms out. Right before he can clasp her, he feels an agonizing pain in his neck. Peyton is executed at the Owl Creek Bridge. Everything that happened after the Peyton fell of the bridge was in his imagination. A second, more powerful instance of illusion versus reality.
Illusion plays a major role in this story. Peyton was desperate to survive, and the best thing he could do was imagine his escape. As much as he could dream, reality still ended his life. Illusion and reality are the same way in real life. People try to escape reality for as long as they can until they must act. Therefore, I believe this story is the best out of the others that I have read. A twisted theme that can be relatable has a major impact on just about everyone. Ambrose Bierce did a fantastic job implementing this concept of illusion and reality into his work.
Escaping The Reality In An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge By Ambrose Bierce
It is in human nature for a person to occasionally day-dream or get lost in their thoughts. This can especially be the case when put in an unfavorable situation. Ambrose Bierce portrays the protagonist, Peyton Farquhar, as to dealing with this relatable experience but on a more serious matter, death. In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Ambrose Bierce uses euphemisms, mirroring between real life and a dream-like state, and unrealistic and suspenseful details to prove people use hallucinations to escape the reality of their life because hallucinations are sometimes better than reality.
Bierce makes the story line blurred with subtle hints and euphemisms. The title, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” suggests that a hanging is just an “occurrence,” but that is not the case. The hanging is a grave situation because they took a man’s life which is irreversible. The title symbolizes that, no matter the era, death is mainly shrugged off as if it is a normal “occurrence”. Peyton Farquhar’s actuality is unimportant to those around him, therefore he starts to day-dream and exit his reality faster. In addition, when Bierce writes “death is a dignitary,” he blurs the meaning of death itself. A comparison of death to a dignitary is saying that death is of great importance and respect which is how the sentinels, deputy sheriff, and captain treat the situation. Bierce feels opposed to the fact that many people don’t see death for what it really is which can be seen in the story because the officers see Peyton Farquhar’s death as an event and not the killing of a soul. Bierce wants the reader to interpret that people are still being killed either way. The author also uses the hallucination itself to show how reality is slowly trying to reveal itself. When Bierce says, “one lodged between his collar and neck; it was uncomfortably warm and he snatched it out” he is referring to the noose on Peyton Farquhar’s neck which is just as uncomfortable in real life as it is in the dream. Farquhar is in such a deep state of subconsciousness that he cannot bring himself out of it, but why would he want to really face his reality? His dream state is currently much more inviting than his actuality, thus he remains in his delusion until his death. Any rational person would agree to stay in a venturesome dream, such as the one Farquhar experiences, rather than suffer and stifle consciously. Literary critic, F.J. Logan, stated the point that “we readers are met with a series of uncertainties which communicate the narrator’s limitations”. Logan is stating that Bierce’s extraordinary diction through the narrator blurs the ultimate explosion at the end. Bierce’s concise execution of euphemisms protect the reader and Farquhar from the “occurrence” of death, the meaning of death, the limitations of the narrator, and the effectiveness of the hallucination.
Ambrose Bierce also uses literary devices to show the mirroring between Farquhar’s reality and his delusion. Firstly, Bierce uses subtle imagery such as, “he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum”. Through great diction and storytelling, Bierce uses imagery to describe Farquhar having a hanging-like sensation in his dream, while in reality he just got hanged and he is literally swinging back and forth like a pendulum. Peyton Farquhar’s brain is protecting his body from the trauma of the hanging. In most human nature, an individual’s brain cannot handle the trauma that comes with reality, sending most people into comas, hallucinations, or unconsciousness. Furthermore, Bierce portrays Farquhar as a character who cannot find a balance between his reality and hallucinations when he sees “a piece of dancing driftwood” which he was aware of and it “caught his attention and his eyes followed it”. Farquhar’s internal struggle to find a balance is outweighed by his dreams because he has a wild imagination and you can even see this when he decides he will tamper with the bridge so that he will go down in history as a ‘war hero’. All of Farquhar’s imaginations seem to be fine, but Farquhar clearly does not think all of them out perfectly because he never escapes the noose and never becomes a war hero. Dreams can also make people do things they do not usually do and they can distract which has an unapproached concept that dreams have some negative connotations. To add on the point of Farquhar’s reality mirroring his fantasy, Bierce uses Peyton Farquhar’s last thoughts to mirror or mimick his dream state verbatim. While Farquhar is still alive, he thinks, “if I could free my hands…I might be able to throw off the noose and spring into the steam”. He also fixes his last thought on his wife which correlates in the dream as him almost stepping into “the light” and seeing his wife before he dies. Ambrose Bierce uses this technique to give foreshadowing hints to the final outcome of the story. Bierce also used this technique as a euphemism to not confuse, but distract the reader from the actual happening of the story. Comparatively, literary expert, Roy Morris Jr., stated, “Certainly he used other personal experiences in writing the story: the real Owl Creek, which borders the battlefield at Shiloh… exactly corresponds to the time of the story”. Bierce uses his own knowledge from battle to give a detailed plot and imitate his personal experience to the short story. The fact that the time of the battle correlates to the time of the story compares and mirrors Bierce’s reality and the story’s fiction through a real life and dream-like state conception. Bierce could most-likely relate to writing this short story as a way to escape his own harsh reality in a sense.
Ambrose Bierce uses unrealistic or suspenseful details to convey the overlying theme of how Farquhar perceives and reacts to his reality and hallucination. For instance, Farquhar can see his surroundings in great detail while he is hallucinating in the quote, “He felt the ripples upon his face…looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual trees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf”. This detail is so unrealistic and unfeasible that it practically shouts out that Peyton Farquhar is clearly not in reality. Bierce’s storytelling once again proves to divert the reader’s attention away from the hallucination aspect. Having unrealistic senses tend to occur in most dreams which can relate to the motif of the story. Moreover, Bierce uses a subtle and partly unrecognizable tone to suggest that since Peyton Farquhar is a Southern secessionist, it supposedly justifies his death to the reader at first glance. Bierce uses an overly sarcastic tone when he stated that “Peyton Farquhar was a well-to-do planter, of and old and highly respected Alabama family”. To Bierce, Farquhar’s death was a tragedy, and especially for what he did that cost him his life, but his ideas of becoming a Southern hero fueled his own decision which he knew had the consequence of death. Although having the ideals and dreams of being a Civil War hero, Farquhar’s delusions were too farfetched for him as well as most people who would agree to go to war. Another way Bierce used suspenseful details was when Farquhar was about to be hanged and Bierce described him as feeling as though “the intervals of silence grew progressively longer… what he heard was the ticking of his watch”. This detail is not only suspenseful but it is also unrealistic in the sense that a human can hear such a miniscule sound. Farquhar felt as though he could hear time ticking by because he did not know when the sentinels were going to step off the board and let him hang which gave him fear and anxiety. This fueled his adrenaline, which lead him to feeling like time was slower than it actually was. This same adrenaline sped up the process of his hallucination. It is a natural instinct for the human body to create adrenaline in states of panic, but Farquhar’s adrenaline and brain concocted a wild delusion which makes the story even more alluring because most people are not familiar with being in a situation of such high distress. That is to say that every detail that Bierce used ultimately lead to Farquhar’s hallucination and how he grasped onto his unfortunate disposition. Literary critic, B.S. Field Jr stated that “critics monotonously repeat that ‘Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ is a study of abnormal psychological state”. The minor details of Farquhar’s hallucinations are more realistic than the reader would think because Bierce bases the details off of humanity. Bierce has been introduced to a harsh society because of his participation in the Civil War and Bierce could relate to escaping his realities of war with dreams of his own.
Ambrose Bierce has experienced one of the most negatively altering “occurrences” the world has to offer which gave him some trauma as well as a pessimistic view which influenced the subtle dark tone the story permits. When a person encounters an extensive amount of serious trauma, they can experience all the things Peyton Farquhar experienced. The brain can protect a person through different mechanisms such as memory loss, hallucinations, or a quick or expeditive death to break away from the bitter society they are forced to bear.
Analysis Of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Movie
Owl Creek: Dreamed, Lived and Died
Vivid imaginings make sense when someone is about to die and is not ready for it. They would be thinking about loved ones and the memories, emotions and further plans they had with them. They could be thinking about what they love about their life, and what they would do if they could continue living it. When someone is about to die, and is standing there waiting for it without any doubt, it would make perfect sense to have a large amount of stress and anxiety, as well as thoughts of how to get out of the situation and what they would do afterwards. The short film named “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Robert Enrico shows an extremely fascinating interpretation of such an event using a combination of sounds and cinematography. The man in the film who is about to die is having all of the experiences mentioned above, and Enrico shows how it is only a dream or an imagining; that it is not really happening.
Almost immediately it seems obvious that the condemned man is already feeling very anxious and is more alert and imaginative than normal. When the soldiers move the man to the loose plank on the bridge, and while they are binding him up to prevent escape, their footsteps, the creaking of the old bridge, and all the surrounding birds that are chirping and twittering away seen louder and more menacing than usual. As he waits for them to commence killing him, he looks around, and everything seems to be slowed down…like he is controlling time and using that advantage to have a decent look at his surroundings. He notices all the guards standing all around, and right after looking at his barely-stable footing, he takes note of a log floating along in the stream. All of this seems like it is happening in a strange amount of time.
After the condemned man is finished surveying his surroundings, he closes his eyes and the scene cuts to a vision of a house and a family of mother and daughter. The scene is really fuzzy, and really sluggish, just like a dream. The woman is walking slowly towards the camera, or the man, and the daughter is swinging in slow motion. As the scene progresses, a sound is slowly coming in. The sound is like a ticking, getting louder at first, then also getting faster and faster. The ticking is similar to a heartbeat speeding up, and as it gets louder at the same time, it seems to make both the dreamer and the viewer more and more anxious.
After the guards take away his pocket watch, he is standing there crying, like as if his demise is finally sinking in. But yet it might not have completely sunk in, because he is still pressing against his bonds. Then the sergeant makes the move to drop him, and as he is falling, all you see is his feet and legs. Once he is in the water, it looks like the rope had broken, and he is already struggling against his bonds once more. But now suddenly he can get free of them. If he could not get out of them before, it could be considered strange that he can now all of a sudden. At the same time, the water sounds different than usual, as if to subtly hint that this is not really happening.
Once the man is above water, a song fades in and talks about how the singer, or presumably, the man in the water, can “see each tree” and all of the veins in their leaves, “hear the birds, the buzzing flies, the splashing fish….” The scene shows a curious look on the man’s face, and shots of leaves up really close, a caterpillar, a spider… all things that would be blurry and even not noticeable to a human who almost died and is treading water next to the enemy. This all seems to take a long time, too. The soldiers would normally have already reacted to the man surviving and would have shot him; the situation all over and done with.
As the scene shows the soldiers all scrambling, they seem slow and sluggish; all warped by a slower passage of time than usual. As the sergeant slowly starts to shout out orders, his voice sounds deeper, too deep and slow; like a monstrous, menacing speech. The slowing of time seems to come in handy for the man as the soldiers shoot at and miss him, the bullets sounding different then they would normally at the same time. As one soldier is aiming for the man, it shows a close up of the soldiers eye, as if the prisoner could see that well that far away while at the same time in the water trying to swim away.
After he regains consciousness and finds himself on a beach at the edge of the river, he happens to take the time to look at all the scenery in sharper detail than humans can usually perceive. The shots heard from far away make him get up and run into the forest. The trees in the forest are unnaturally straight and perfect, and there are no animals, nothing but short trimmed grass surrounding them.
Once he gets to his house, the music seems heavenly, and as the couple is moving toward each other, they seem to get nowhere. Those shots are actually the same ones repeated over and over a few times to give the illusion that they are far away from each other. Once the man finally gets to his perfect-looking wife and perfect house, and just as he is about to embrace her, his head snaps back and he screams in pain.
The last bit of the film cuts to show him hanging there, his neck snapped; the rope unbroken. The narrator sums up what happened to the man in one precise sentence: “This story is shown in two forms: as it was dreamed, and as it was lived and died.” Those few precious seconds are where the man imagined what he desperately wished to have, but could not.
The Major Themes in an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
The theme of An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce is courage is not the absence of fear but rather the acceptance of it. The second theme of this story is that time is fluid.
The theme is courage is not the absence of fear but rather the acceptance of it because Peyton Farquhar’s dead body was compared to a pendulum which symbolized Peyton’s emotions such as courage, fear, grief, and sadness. “The intellectual part of his nature was already effaced; he had power only to feel, and feeling was torment. He was conscious of motion. Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum.” This relates to the theme because it shows that he was both courageous yet fearful.
Even though it was just a hallucination, before his death, Peyton showed great courage by running away from the Union soldiers and making it to the safety of his home. The soldiers were throwing cannonballs and shooting rifles into the water and on the banks trying to kill Peyton, and despite this, he still managed to escape because his family made him hopeful.
His family symbolizes home and safety. “He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children.” In his last moments all he wanted to do was think about his family because to him they represented home and safety which comforted him in his dying moments.
The setting of this story is very important, specifically the time in which this story took place. The story takes place in 1861 which is at the beginning of the civil war. If the story didn’t take place at this time there would be no story at all because the entire story revolves a man getting hung for supporting the Confederacy. The author uses detailed descriptions which lets me infer that he wanted the reader to know the time period without actually saying that it took place during the civil war.
The second theme of this story, time is fluid, is shown by the structure in which the author wrote this story. The story started with the present, then went to the past, before coming back to the presents. While awaiting his execution Farquhar closed his eyes and entered his mind during which time appeared to slow down. “He awaited each new stroke with impatience and — he knew not why — apprehension. The intervals of silence grew progressively longer; the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency, the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.”
Ambrose Bierce uses time to manipulate the reader into believing things about Peyton Farquhar that may or may not be true. His first description of the character varied from what was shown in the second part of the story. “His eyes were large and dark gray, and had a kindly expression which one would hardly have expected in one whose neck was in the hemp. Evidently this was no vulgar assassin.” Later in the story Bierce describes him as willing to do anything in the name of the south, after all, he was a slave owner himself. He’d even go as far as to destroy the Owl Creek Bridge. The author’s use of switching between the past and the present and using time as a way to influence the readers judgement of a character shows how important of an influence time is on the story. Another example of this theme is that before he actually died, Peyton Farquhar was comforted with the vision of a safe return to his family. This comforted him in a way that allowed his death to be more merciful. His mind saved itself from the pain of experiencing his death with the emotions of grief and sorrow for the fact that he will never see his family again. This supports the theme because an entire night took place inside of Farquhar’s head in what was actually just a few moments before his death.
The two themes in this story, courage is not the absence of fear but rather the acceptance of it and time is fluid, work together because his courage is what allowed him to escape the so-called boundaries of time and spend his final moments with his family. Peyton accepts his death and as though it were a reward his mind lets him see his family one last time before his death. Death is something that we all must someday accept as a part of life, especially during this time of war when murders and executions were a part of everyday life.
Experiences of Illusions in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, a Short Story by Ambrose Bierce
A Real Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge?
Sometimes reality is not as true as originally thought. Dreams, imaginings and illusions can look quite real. They are not always real though, and can be deceiving. The short story named “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce is a familiar example of an illusion. The first time reader may not quite recognize this until the end. When the assembly of soldiers is being changed, as well as when the sergeant stepped aside off of the plank, and Peyton falls, the occurrences Peyton seems to experience have some small clues that hint at the fact that the experiences are an illusion. Or perhaps it was some imaginings that Peyton had moments before his death?
As the guard moves around Peyton, he starts to pay attention to his surroundings. He notices that the stream is sluggish since a piece of driftwood seemed to dance or “move slowly” in his opinion (Bierce Par.4). Yet in the first paragraph Bierce mentions that Peyton is looking down into “swift water.” Maybe Peyton is just imagining something different.
The closer they get to the end result, the more Peyton starts noticing strange things that one wouldn’t normally be able to notice. In the fifth paragraph of Bierce’s short story, Peyton closes his eyes to focus on thoughts of his family. But suddenly something starts to bother him, forcing him to pay attention to it rather than the thoughts of his loved ones. “Striking through the thought of his dear ones was 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.” Peyton claimed that the noise kept getting more and more distressing as it slowly tolled, similar to a death knell; and then it was mentioned that all he was hearing was the ticking of his wristwatch (Bierce par. 5). Such a strange event could suggest that he is hallucinating, dreaming, imagining, or just plain freaking out.
Another clue seems to suggest that Peyton may not have been thinking any of that at all. “As these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the doomed man’s brain rather than evolved from it the captain nodded to the sergeant (Bierce par. 7).” Perhaps he didn’t even have the time to think those thoughts before the soldiers sent him plunging, or maybe something “flashed” the information into his brain.
When a different scene shows Peyton with his wife and a guest, he asked questions of the guest. The soldier told him what was going on in the war, and when asked how far away the bridge with the repairs was, said it was “about thirty miles (Bierce par. 10-12).” Possibly, this bit of information could clue in towards his thoughts of fleeing home, as well as his later escape after the soldiers drop him, suggesting that it is not quite possible.
As the story shifts back to the bridge, the story says, “As Peyton Farquhar fell straight downward through the bridge he lost consciousness and was as one already dead. From this state he was awakened–ages later, it seemed to him (Bierce par.18)….” The words “as one already dead” should whisper the idea that he really is already dead, not to be awoken again.
Another clue that could suggest that this situation is not really happening is: “the light about him shot upward with the noise of a loud splash; a frightful roaring was in his ears, and all was cold and dark (par.18).” Light does not make noise, and water takes a bit longer to cool off then the amount of time it supposedly took for the light to “shoot upward.”
A good example also found in the eighteenth paragraph seems to prod at the idea that this event is not real. “To die of hanging at the bottom of a river!–the idea seemed to him ludicrous (par. 18).” When someone is hung by a rope, often their neck is snapped by the force of their fall, thereby killing them before the body could even begin to touch the water.
When Bierce says that Peyton opened his eyes and noticed that the light seemed quite distant, and that it was getting still farther as he was sinking deeper, that could be reminiscent of death, or the fading of life (par 18).
Bierce then has Peyton start to float upwards back towards the surface, where he seems to suddenly have all of his senses, but they are heighten to an unnatural amount (Bierce par. 20). Since no human is able to accomplish such a feat, it could suggest unrealism.
In the twenty-first paragraph Bierce describes the soldiers as having “grotesque and horrible” movements, and their forms “gigantic.” These qualities are usually associated with nightmares or dreams. And when bullets hit the water near Peyton, they are slowed and harmless, yet in real life they are still fast and dangerous underwater. And when anyone looks from a distance away from a scope on a gun, they cannot see clearly the eye behind it, let alone the color of the eye (Bierce par. 22). Peyton should not have known by that kind of observation whether or not the man was a good shot.
The enhanced thoughts, senses, endurance and strength throughout the rest of the story are all unrealistic, so they all point to the idea of an illusion as well. Especially when Peyton notices that his neck is very swollen, yet still presses on, as well as when he feels pain at the back of his neck and everything turns white, then dark (Bierce par. 20-36).
As Peyton’s journey unfolds, it starts seem almost ridiculous, an unconscious tugging toward the thoughts that suggest the story’s fake qualities. But at the same time it seems fascinating, like an amazing fantasy story that anyone would like to experience in their real life. Enhanced senses are commonly wished for. But unfortunately, Peyton only dreamed this, while at the same time the story was depressing, with the impression that Peyton might actually get to see his loved ones again ripped apart by the harsh truth that he was truly dead the whole time.
Close Reading Analysis of an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
In the middle of the Civil War in Alabama, Peyton Farquhar, a wealthy farmer, awaits death upon Owl Creek Bridge. With a noose around his neck, Union soldiers watch as the gentleman collects his thoughts in his last moments before he is hanged for accidentally revealing his allegiance to the Confederacy to a Union spy. While reading this short story for the first time, the reader is led to believe that Peyton miraculously escapes and takes pleasure in reading about his long, exhausting journey home to his lovely wife and children. Only in the very last sentences is it revealed that his whole escape was a dream, taking place in the milliseconds between when he is forced off the bridge to when the noose fatally tightens around his neck. This vivid passage quoted below from Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” can be found towards the very beginning of the short story. In this paragraph, Peyton becomes aggravated and anxious due to an unknown, irritating sound. This passage contributes to the whole of the piece more than any other paragraph for it establishes mood and tone, character development, and adds to the overall theme of the work.
This paragraph successfully aides in developing the tone and mood of the whole short story through descriptive imagery and setting. Yet they have severe differences. For instance, “The water, touched to gold by the early sun, the brooding mist under the banks at some distance down the stream,” (1-2) paints a vivid picture in the readers mind. This is an excellent example of the tone of the story. The “gold” (2) water alludes to a bright morning sky while the “early sun” (2) and “brooding mist” (2) produce a sleepy, peaceful tone. Yet this beautiful scene of a calm creek is quickly and harshly contrasted with Peyton’s feeling of anxiety and “apprehension” (9). He hears a “maddening” (10) sound that “hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife” (11-12). This illustrative description of the “sharp, distant, metallic” (5) sound creates an uneasy mood for the reader. One begins to feel as uncomfortable reading this section of the text as though they were on the bridge over Owl Creek itself. These sentences not only demonstrate a distinct contrast in, but set up the mood and tone for the rest of the short story.
The tone of this short piece of literature notably contrasts the protagonist’s inner thoughts. While the mood gives readers greater insight to how Peyton is feeling by making them feel the same way, it is the contrast from calm, collected tone that really brings attention to what he is thinking. By writing in such a relaxed tone but then so powerfully depicting the agonizing sound of the Peyton’s watch, the author develops a deep, complex character in just a matter of sentences. In his physical appearance, the protagonist appears to be collected and even calm in the face of death. He is even described as a gentleman earlier in the story. This parallels the tone of the story. Yet as Bierce describes the sound of his ticking watch, that which sounds, “like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil” (6), the reader comes to realize that Peyton is not only terrified of death, but driven to insanity by the anxiety of waiting for it. The reader realizes that Peyton is just as human and frightened of mortality as the rest of us. This description of the protagonist’s character goes much deeper than just his physical appearance, per say, and into his psyche. This is a great moment of character development of Peyton Farquhar.
This passage perfectly embodies the theme of the story. That theme being a human’s natural tendency to reject the idea of her or his own mortality. In this passage, the protagonist desperately tries to ignore his situation by closing, “his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children,” (1). Though he is moments away from being hanged to death, Peyton still refuses to face the reality of his inevitable situation. He prefers to ignore what is happening to him and naively think about his wife and children, oh whom he will never see again. He even claims that, “the fort, the soldiers, the piece of driftwood–all had distracted him,” (3). This meaning that all these very real and present objects had distracted him from his day dreaming and refusal to recognize the morbid certainty of his situation. In this paragraph, Bierce expertly parallels Peyton’s actions to the theme of the book and to humanity as a whole.
In this critical paragraph of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” the tone and mood are set, the protagonist becomes a multi-dimensional character, and the theme is expertly portrayed. As one reads about Peyton Farquhar’s story, one can not help but feel sympathy for this poor man, regardless of political views. After all, he is only a human being, just as fearful of his own death as we are of ours. This is a pivotal passage and if it were removed, the meaning of the whole story would be lost.
Parenthetical numbering refers to the following paragraph:
1 He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children. The water,
2 touched to gold by the early sun, the brooding mists under the banks at some distance
3 down the stream, the fort, the soldiers, the piece of driftwood–all had distracted him. And
4 now he became conscious of a new disturbance. Striking through the thought of his dear
5 ones was a sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic
6 percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil; it had the same
7 ringing quality. He wondered what it was, and whether immeasurably distant or near by–
8 it seemed both. Its reoccurrence was regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell.
9 He awaited each stroke with impatience and–he knew not why–apprehension. The
10 intervals of silence grew progressively longer; the delays became maddening. With
11 greater infrequency the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like
12 the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his
13 watch. (Bierce 289)
Main Character In Owl Creek Bridge Story
Peyton Farquhar was a plantation owner, a slave owner, and a highly respected gentleman of the South. He loved the South with a burning passion and because of his love for the Confederacy, tried to join the army, but was turned down. Farquhar still did not give up. He was so driven, so motivated for the South and its cause. Although Farquhar wanted to serve the South, his hard determination turned into an unrealistic dream. He was characterized by an overconfidence that ultimately led to his death.
Farquhar’s devotion to the South was characterized by his risk-taking nature. This was originally caused by his rejection to become a soldier for the South. Farquhar would do absolutely anything to help the South during the war. This is shown when he tried to burn the railroad bridge that the Yankees were working on. He knew it would result in death if he was caught, but he did it anyway. The “dreaminess” is seen each time Farquhar thought he was able to do anything for the South if he tried. Ultimately, he was wrong.
Farquhar was sitting on a bench with his wife on their plantation when a soldier rode up. He asked for water, and while Mrs. Farquhar got some water, the two men spoke. The soldier told Farquhar that his army was repairing the railroads and were getting ready for another advance at Owl Creek Bridge. As he asked questions about the position of the picket post and sentinel, Farquhar was, in his mind, putting together a plan to help the Confederate army. Here his passion to help the South is demonstrated. They continued speaking, and the soldier told Farquhar that if one passed the picket post and sentinel, he could set the bridge on fire with the dry driftwood that had settled under the bridge during a flood the previous winter. At this, Farquhar’s plan was spelled out for him. He was determined to help the South in any way possible; thus, he seized this opportunity though it meant death. He did not even know whether his plan would succeed, but because he thought he was a great help to the Confederate army, he tried hard to accomplish what he thought he could.
Farquhar’s unrealistic dreaming is also seen when he is in the process of being hung. Because he felt so passionate about the South and was willing to die for it, he imagined himself doing that which was realistically improbable—escaping the noose to further assist in a Confederate victory in the war. Farquhar was hung, and as he died, he slowly envisioned the rope breaking and himself falling into the creek. He starts drowning, and then after his senses come back, he is swimming to the surface, gasping for air, as he finds himself being shot at by Yankee soldiers on the bridge. He tries to swim down the creek to escape from being shot and succeeds. Farquhar then imagined himself going home to his wife, just as he finally blacked out and his dream was no more. Farquhar’s seeming reality had been too far-fetched, and instead of facing the truth of not being able to survive to help the South, he died for his actions.
Farquhar believed wholeheartedly, that he was, even though not physically, a Confederate soldier when, in fact, he was not at all. His devotion led to his risk-taking. His risk-taking was too much, and he died because of it.
Review Of An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge By Ambrose Bierce
I enjoyed reading the short story that fascinated and mesmerized its audience; propelling them into the world they create for their characters. The short story takes place on a railroad bridge in Northern Alabama during the American Civil War. The Civil War started because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states. Peyton Fahrquhar a slave owner is the main character in this short story. In the short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce, the author creates an enjoyable short story through his use of vivid imagery, formal diction, and explicit syntax. The most prominent technique he used was imagery.
Throughout the story, Bierce uses imagery to convey a sense of focus and realism into the plot. One of the first examples of this is when the author describes Peyton Fahrquhar, saying that “he wore a moustache and pointed beard, but no whiskers; his eyes were large and dark gray and had a kindly expression”. This description of Fahrquhar draws me in and personalizes the character so that I could form a visual representation of him in their mind’s eye. This really helps me care about the outcome of this character’s fate.
As the story revolves around the fate of the main character, Fahrquhar, the way that the author sets the mood is important for understanding and enjoying the ability of the plot. To emphasize the seriousness of the situation, the author utilizes formal diction. For example; when describing Fahrquhar’s apparent safety on the river’s shore, the author chose to write that “the sudden arrest of his motion, the abrasion of one of his hands on the gravel, restored him”. This choice of diction – such as using the word “arrest” versus choosing “stop” or using “restored him” instead of saying that it “brought him back” – creates a mood throughout the piece that the situation for Fahrquhar is serious of life and death. I felt that every action was important, and gave me the reason to keep reading. This made the story very enjoyable.
Finally, Bierce also uses syntactical choices to help display the emotion of the piece. The most touching example of this occurs at the very end of the story. Bierce uses a hyphen, and an exclamation point to emphasize the phrase “a sound like the shock of a cannon – then all is darkness and silence!”. Creating this separation signifies that part of the story is a key piece to the puzzle of the plot. By creating a direct indication that allowed me to understand the plot. I enjoyed the story because I wasn’t left confused or questioning what I had just read.
In conclusion, the author of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, Ambrose Bierce, was able to draw me into the short story due to his use of brilliant imagery, solemn diction, and precise syntax throughout the story. A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; “it takes sweat, determination, and hard work”. Bierce inspired me to question what about our lives is and is not real. In order for more writers to create enjoyable short stories, they should incorporate these techniques into their own writing.
The Unknown and the Anticipation
Suspense is the extraordinary inclination that a crowd of people experiences while hanging tight for the result of specific occasions. It essentially leaves the audience holding their breath and needing more. Like in the short story’s Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Where Are You Going Where Have You Been. The writers generate situations that might force readers to comprehend and want to continue reading to see what the characters are facing next. Ambrose Bierce’s short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, is a clear instance of suspenseful writing. Bierce’s use of imagination such as how the Hangman intends to flee; specific details such as how the rope breaks and the Hangman evades execution; and figurative language, such as how the Hangman lastly ends, intensifies the action and keeps the listener loaded with fear. Although all these aspects affect how the tale works, it mostly affects how the tale is viewed by the viewer.
In the tale, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, the Author’s use of Imagery, specific information, and figurative language provides the listener with a vibrant feeling of realism and expectation. A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor includes foreshadowing, or hints of serious risk, one is hit at the end of the tale by the unexpected violence. If the story is read a second time, however, the reader can see certain indications of foreshadowing that suggest the story’s end. It is very convincing through the method of powerful imagery by O’Connor to foreshadow the individuals and the events in the tale. There are two important timing the story started with the grandma not wanting to travel to Florida, but to Tennessee where she has some friends to see. She is dressed very nicely with, ‘A navy blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet’. Secondly, the foreshadowing of the family’s death is the graveyard when they ‘passed by a cotton field with five or six graves fenced’. It’s not an accident that the ‘five or six’ burial numbers match the precise amount of individuals in the vehicle.
Even though there are five individuals and a child. It is therefore suitable to say that the amount of five or six gravestone were indicated for the family. In Where Are You Going Where Have You Been, Oates creates a tense mood in the reader’s heart during her short story’s last few pages by creating an intensely and rapidly growing fear within Connie. This fear that Connie has comes from the actions of Arnold Friend as well as his words of her not so new acquaintance. Arnold utilizes his speech and actions to force Connie and his pose to come with him. Arnold’s word selection also affects the story’s suspense build-up. Arnold tells Connie to the end of the plot that she’s his ‘lover’ and she doesn’t understand precisely what that entails yet, but she’s going to. It is disturbing that Arnold takes ownership of Connie and adds to the build-up of intense emotion.
Furthermore, when Arnold forces Connie to come out or he’ll break in, he convinces Connie that when Connie refuses to come in, she doesn’t ‘want to put her family into the situation.’ This can be viewed as a threat to harm her family unless she gives it to him, which would obviously increase all feelings. As the tale ends, Arnold utilizes the insecurities of Connie to coax her out of the house by telling her that she is ‘better than her family and that not one of them would go through a scenario like this for her.’ The fact that Arnold turns against her a vulnerable portion of Connie can definitely scare the viewer and cause tension to increase.
Overall, Arnold is the cause of Connie’s fears, and what plays into this fear is the actions of Arnold as well as his words. To create this mood within the reader, Oates uses Arnold as the “bad guy”. Suspense is a literary device used by writers throughout the job to maintain alive the interest of their readers. That something risky or harmful is about to occur is a sense of anticipation. Using this sort of anxiety in literature is intended to create readers more worried about the characters and form a friendly connection with them. Hence, Authors like Flannery O’Connor, Ambrose Bierce’s and Joyce Carol Oates all use elements of suspense to make their very well-known successful novels.
A New Aspect of Time in an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Story
In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Ambrose Bierce has created an awe-inspiring and wonder-filled portrait of time as a fluid motion of nature. The reader is swiftly transported from the present to the past, then forward to the present (as the protagonist perceives it) and finally into the actual present. While there are many themes which take center-stage in this composition, such as the blurring of fantasy and reality, or the idea of distorted sensory perception; the one theme which I will expound on in this essay is the element of irony. The story rings of irony in every line from the onset to the ending, and it also reeks faintly of a grotesque form of sardonic wit. This is not so surprising seeing as Bierce is still reputable for his dark and biting literary approach.
The irony upon which the entire story is founded is the concept that Peyton is never truly free from his captors and that even his best attempts at achieving freedom are not enough because he is still a condemned man. Peyton’s fantastical state of mind seems to spawn from a moment in the story when he wishes to “fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children.” (Barnett, Cain, Burto287). Immediately, his thoughts are interrupted by the exaggerated sound of his watching ticking off the few remaining minutes of his existence. He cannot even find the slightest measure of calm in these moments just to think on his estranged family. Ironically, he resolves then without truly realizing it to somehow, and some way, see his family again before he perishes, and he does indeed manage to accomplish that although only in his illusion.
The reader is faced with dramatic irony during the story’s sudden flashback when Peyton refers to himself as being a “student of hanging.” (287) This is undoubtedly ironic that a man familiar with and learned in the method of hanging would one day find himself on the wrong end of the rope. Ambrose Bierce is obviously toying with the readers’ emotions with this admission. On the one hand, the reader feels compassionately for this man doomed to die simply because his demise is happening so abruptly, but there is also an underlying notion that cannot be escaped. That perhaps this is the truest poetic justice for Peyton to meet an end which he witnessed so many men before him meet.
Another ironic moment is the passage of time between Peyton’s impromptu flashback and him falling through the bridge. The reader easily overlooks this flaw in the story right along with the numerous other details which are missed in reading this story for the first time. It is interesting and somewhat unexplainable how suddenly clear and defined Peyton’s thoughts are during those final minutes. He is obviously petrified and beside himself, and yet he has time for a brief journey backwards into the past. Bierce is in fact preparing us for what is to soon transpire. He’s showing us that the protagonist is capable of sinking into his thoughts for comfort. Peyton is a master escapist as he escapes deeper and deeper into his “safe” illusion. Ironically, Bierce writes that Peyton “swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum.” (287). This statement does not hold much significance upon first reading it but once the story is given a second read, it makes perfect sense that it is describing Peyton as he really is before the reader is swept away into his deluded state of consciousness.
Irony continues to set the tone for this story as Peyton is never once permitted real peace of mind. He is still running from his captors, fighting for his life, and searching for his home even in his dream state. Just when he managed to swim through the river and “come to the surface facing down the stream,” he sees “the bridge, the fort, the soldiers upon the bridge…” (287). Bierce is wielding his pen mightily, showing just how much sway he has in this story. He is in fact a dream maker and he is making Peyton’s dream state into a hellish nightmare racked with weird twists and bitter turns, always for the worst.
The conclusion is without a doubt the most brutal, torturous, and ironic scene in all of the story with the rung being pulled so fast from beneath Peyton’s feet, and the reader being let down so soon and so very hard. Just when Peyton (and the unknowing reader) believes he has finally made it safely home and sees his wife, there is a powerful flash of light and “then all is darkness and silence.” (287). In the following line, the reader is reunited with the real Peyton Farquhar, his body hanging lifeless beneath the bridge. There is nothing to be said at that moment. Ironically, Bierce has successfully duped the reader in joining into Peyton’s false comfort world, and even cheering him through this distorted sensory state.
Ambrose Bierce managed to create a rather memorable story with an equally remarkable and stunning conclusion. The plot thickens with every horrific and clever line penned by him. It is so fascinating to see the world through the eyes of a condemned man seeking freedom and a second chance of life. Every moment in this story is so very vivid and graphic as if the reader,is actually experiencing the moment right along with the protagonist. Bierce is amazing at presenting irony in such a terrific and shocking light. The greatest irony is perhaps that the reader is also quickly and deeply captivated by this tale of a tale they never met and feels so deeply for him still.