An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge



“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is, in both content and presentation, a tour de force, a story that lures, captivates, and surprises its reader. It is a perfect Biercean story in that it is an intense and detailed narrative that mixes both real and unreal and ends in violent death and cruel irony. Whether Bierce is a master of the short story genre is debatable. This story, however, is undoubtedly a masterwork. The story undoubtedly revolves around the central idea that a persons' life flashes before their eyes before the brink of death.



The Story1

The Work3

Themes and Meanings4

Style and Technique6



An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

The Story

The story begins with clear, simple, declarative sentences: 

A man stood upon a railroad bridge in Northern Alabama, looking down into the swift waters twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A  rope loosely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head (Bierce, 19).

His name is Peyton Farquhar, and he is a member of “an old and highly respected Alabama family.” Peyton, who was “ardently devoted to the Southern cause,” was prevented from joining the army by circumstance and was eager to serve the South in any way possible. One evening, while he was sitting with his wife, a grey-clad soldier rode up, asked for water, and told them that the Northern army was preparing to advance once the bridge over Owl Creek had been repaired. The soldier indicated that the bridge was poorly guarded and that a brave man could easily burn it down. Farquhar undertook the challenge of destroying the bridge and was captured. The last sentence of section two reveals that the planter never had a chance, because the grey-clad soldier was, in fact, a “Federal scout (Bierce, 20).”

The next section returns abruptly to the present. Peyton falls downwards. He gains consciousness of the fact that the rope has broken and he falls straight into the stream. He rises to the surface to free himself and gasps for breath. The joy of his resurrection is short-lived, however, for the Union troops immediately open fire on him, and Farquhar is forced to dive deeply and swim furiously in order to escape the ignominy of being shot after having avoided death by hanging and drowning. The troops fire at will and even artillery is brought to bear on the fleeing prisoner; but with the help of the current, the man evades cannon and rifle shot and plunges into the forest.

He drives himself relentlessly through the rest of that day and all through the night toward his home. He apparently falls asleep while walking, for when he awakens “he stands at the gate of his own home. All is as he left it, and all is bright and beautiful in the morning sunshine.” His wife “stands waiting, with a smile of ineffable joy. . . . As he is about to clasp her, he feels ...
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