Short Story Analysis

"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce

Critical Biography

  • Bierce was born June 24th 1842.
  • As a teen he attended the Kentucky Military Institute.
  • At the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted himself in the Union army.
  • Bierce fought in numerous military engagements including the battles of Shiloh and Chickamauga.
  • He rose to the rank of lieutenant before retiring and taking on his literary career.
  • Bierce's short stories and novels focus on the Civil War and Deception.
  • ("Ambrose (Gwinett) Bierce")


In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce the setting is Southern America during the Civil War. The story begins with a man that is soon to be executed by northern soldiers. A flashback takes place explaining what the alleged criminal did to earn such an execution. Peyton Farquhar, a southern gentleman and slave owner, was a strong supporter of the southern cause and would do anything to contribute on the behalf of the confederation; including interfering with northern advancements, even if the risk of being caught is death by hanging. The story flashes back to the present time and the soldier dismounts from the board keeping Farquhar from his death. The agony is severe, but suddenly the rope breaks and he makes an extraordinary escape. But all was a dream, and the southern gentleman is hanging at the end of a rope dead at Owl Creek Bridge.

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Analysis of Theme

In "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" the story features Peyton Farquhar, a man who longs for "the larger life of a soldier". However, him being a plantation owner prevents him from doing so, and he begins to fantasize about the life of a war hero ("An Occurrence"164). In his heart he believes he is a soldier, not the average civilian. With this thought embedded in his perspective, he "patiently waits for the opportunity of distinction" (Bierce, Ambrose) from the individuals he is surrounded by.

Although he had never experienced war in its real form, he believes he is capable of doing the tasks of a trained Confederate Rebel. Farquhar is so eager to prove his "abilities" he allows himself to be deceived by a Union scout, telling him how effortless it would be to stop the Union's advancements by burning the bridge. Even after being captured, he still believes it is possible for him to escape: minutes before being executed he thinks to himself "If I could free my hands, I might throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By diving I could evade the bullets-" (Bierce, Ambrose).

In his mind, the rope snaps and he is able to make a remarkable escape. Like in his earlier thoughts, he dodges the bullets of his executors' and is able to make it to the forest going towards his home. Until the last moments in Farquhar's life, he is convinced his abilities are those of a skilled soldier although never having any experience in training. He is so lost in his own fantasy that his mind is altered to believe he has the ability to accomplish something farther than his own potential: escaping his captors.

Farquhar, like many people, confuses his own abilities with those of who he would like to be. In this case, the character at hand wishes to be a savior of the south when his abilities are limited to those of an ordinary person. Despite the fact that he would like to be capable of much more, he is indeed the average civilian, not the lavish war hero he wishes to be.

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Work Cited

"Ambrose (Gwinett) Bierce." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 12 May 2016.

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Short Stories For Students. Ed. Kathleen Wilson. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1997. 160-173. Print.

Bierce, Ambrose. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Ambrose Bierce. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. 1-16. LitFinder. Web. 12 May 2016.

Caitlyn Ramos

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