Symbolism of the Peyton Farquhar’s Journey in Ambrose Bierce’s Story An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

Many citizens in America were bewildered after the Civil War because of everything they had lost. The author starts the story with a group of silent characters that were on a bridge about to hang a plantation slave owner. The narrator shows the reader what is happening in the man’s head and how he wants to escape his execution and go home to his family. Throughout this story, Bierce uses symbolism and imagery to portray Peyton Farquhar’s thoughts before death.

At the beginning of the short story, The author first writes about the predicament the protagonist is in and describes the setting around him. Ambrose writes about the background of the main character saying that he is “a civilian and a planter” (3). The man being hanged is trying to the best of his ability to escape death. He is looking at key factors about his surroundings for instance, the water flowing below the bridge and how fast the current is. The author writes about water symbolising freedom and a new chance at life.

After, the author states that Peyton the main character was a “Slave owner from a highly respected Alabama family” (8). The author when back in time before he was going to be hung. The author writes about a northern soldier in disguise talking to Peyton. Peyton askes the soldier what he could do to tamper with the bridge that the northern army was fixing up. The Federal soldier in disguise talked about “driftwood that had pilled up under the bridge that would burn like tender” (16). The soldier says that anyone caught interfering with the bridge would be hanged.

Lastly, the author goes back to the present time after the soldiers have pulled support from under Peyton’s feet. As he was being hanged the noose broke and sent him plummeting Peyton down towards the water below him. The noose was still strangling him while he was in the water not allowing the water to enter his lungs. He emerged from the water and saw the captain with his gun out about to shoot at him while he was flowing down the stream. The captain did not shoot but the author described the soldier’s movements as “grotesque and horrible” (21).

As he was floating down the stream many things were shot at him a sniper tried to shoot him and they tried to shoot him with a cannon aswell. None of the actions taken to try to kill him didn’t work. He got out of the water and started walking home, the next day he was at his front gate and was walking towards his wife. He goes in for an embrace with his wife and feels a “stunning blow upon the back of the neck” (36). But all along his body was hanging from the noose beneath the “Owl Creek Bridge”.

In conclusion, Ambrose symbolises escape from what is bound to happen using the stream as an escape route to go home and see his family. The author also uses time. For example, the author talked about him going down the stream and getting shot at and almost died but all along he was dead hanging on the side of the bridge dangling from the noose that had taking his life. Ambrose’s use of symbolism gives the reader an idea of what might be going through a man’s head when he is about to be killed or maybe just going through a hard time we always try to find a way to escape the inevitable.


Read more