The short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge written by Ambrose Bierce is centered on a southern farmer, Peyton Farquhar who the Union army is about to execute during the American civil war for attempting to burn down the Owl Creek Bridge. At the moment of Farquhar’s death, he experiences a dream where the rope used to hang him breaks allowing him to flee for safety. The author begins the story with simple, clear, and declarative sentences. Bierce stylistically uses his mastery of technique to capture the attention of the reader. He skillfully and carefully creates a convincing set of realistic situations and sets up grim and intense atmosphere then exquisitely introduces the unreality and subjectivity on which the plot articulates. Through the use of realism, foreshadowing, symbolism and imagery, the author apparently illustrates the theme of grotesque reality and the horror associated with war.
Though the narrator does not give the date of the framed occurrence, the setting of the story can be dated back to the summer of 1862 when the Civil War was at its peak. The way the author describes the condemned individual brings a sardonic tone that is cynical or rather bitter. He describes the execution with refinement but also with some reservation which enables the fantastical escape description.
To enhance the theme of the story, Bierce effectively uses foreshadowing where the power of the story originates from its appalling conclusion. He gives a hint of the nature of Farquhar’s escape which the reader realizes only after reading the story over and over. Such hints are when Farquhar mentions his escape plans in section one which is an entirely absurd plan that materializes in section three (Bierce, 6). The ideal isolated road, the swollen tongue, and pained neck, as well as the congested eyes, give a clue about the death of Farquhar.
Realism is another literary device that the author efficiently uses. The use of details creates authenticity for the setting of the story. Ideally, the imagined escape of Farquhar incorporates realistic detail until the point when he realizes the tree-lined road heading to his house. This is a realistic dream that an individual might experience when they are being hanged from a northern Alabama bridge. Similarly, the narrator draws on his Civil War experience to establish a realistic military atmosphere. The author’s detailed and realistic portrayal of war violence negates its frequently romanticized representation.
Bierce uses the Owl Creek Bridge as a symbol of change and transition. Usually, in literature bridges represent change as they are natural connectors that join a piece of land to another. Literary, the bridge is a tangible connection between the south and the north in a Civil War and in this case it represents the advantageous opportunity for two opposing sides in a battle. Likewise, for Farquhar, the bridge symbolizes a significant change between life and death. The name of Peyton Farquhar is symbolic, as Farquhar goes beyond being a planter and becomes a Confederate cause martyr. The author’s focus is not on the protagonist but rather his mentality and whatever is happening around him.
In conclusion, Bierce uses imagery: the driftwood represents both Farquhar and his unattainable freedom as he starts to imagine his escape in the water. His escape fantasy relies on the flow of the water which pulls him ashore literary providing him with safety (Bierce, 2). The reader can follow through the fantasies of Farquhar up to the point where h is not able to escape military justice. The imagery of time is eminent throughout the story as the narrator takes the reader back and forth between the past and the present. Notably, it is only after the fall of Farquharthrough the bridge that the readerknows his name and the reason as to why he was being executed.
Bierce, Ambrose. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. 1st ed., 2002,