An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by Ambrose Bierce

Plot Line

Exposition: Peyton is standing being set up to be hung by the military men on the Union side. Peyton has a flash back of his past life that explains and shows that he is being hung on Owl Creek bridge for interfering with the construction of the railroad.

Rising Action: Peyton is dropped from the hanging podium and manages to escape from the noose and starts to swim away in the creek/river. As he is swimming away he is being shot at by the soldiers attending his execution. They fire guns, cannons, and buckshot at him, but he evades the bullets. He gets away from the soldiers and walks through the woods.

Climax: Peyton journeys through the woods home, all while having some incredible neck pain. Eventually, Peyton makes it back to his wife and as they are just about to embrace, his neck is broken and Peyton is dead, with a broken neck, swinging from side to side at Owl Creek bridge.

Falling action/ Resolution: Peyton was hung at Owl Creek Bridge, his escape from the hanging was a dream/fantasy.


Peyton Farquhar is having an external conflict, being hung. Peyton is told by a confederate soldier to burn a bridge. It would help out the south in the American Civil war. So, Peyton being a loyal southerner attempts to burn the bridge, but he is caught. Signs are posted that say, "...any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its bridges, tunnels, or trains will be summarily hanged". This matters to Peyton because he has his family to go back to and he doesn't want to die. Peyton is as good as dead, when suddenly he escapes, or does he?


The theme of this story is denial of death. In this short story, as Peyton is being hung, he escapes from his noose and gets away from the soldiers. But, at the end of this story we find out that it was all his imagination, and he is hung. I believe that his imagination/fantasy of getting away was him trying to escape the fact that he was going to die. I also this because in his fantasy, he goes to his wife. His wife most likely makes him very happy and calms him down. So him going to his wife shows us that Peyton was indeed, trying to escape or deny the fact that he was a dead man.



This short story is very believable. I think the emotions and imagery make this all happen. When Peyton is escaping from his noose, it almost feels like your are next to him seeing the struggle, and pain he is in. "But his disobedient hands gave no heed to the command. They beat the water vigorously with quick downward strokes...his chest expanded convulsively, and with a supreme and crowning agony his lungs engulfed a great draught of air" (17). This quote shows how full of action and imagery this story is, and how easy it is to picture him moving and feeling like that in the water.

Why should you read this story?

I think that this story is worth reading because of how believable it is. The imagery however makes this happen. The imagery in the story makes you feel as if you are right behind Peyton in his whole journey. This factor makes you keep reading! This short story also has a great conflict of the Confederate soldier tricking Peyton into burning the bridge, later to be hung for this crime. The conflict is very understandable and easy to follow. I think the last thing that makes this story worth reading is the theme. The theme is most likely about the effects of the American Civil war and/or death, but it isn't very clear, and its up to you to make what you want of it. As long as you have evidence for your theme, it works!