An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

Ambrose Bierce

Plot Line

Exposition: Peyton Farquhar's executioners begin preparing for his hanging on Owl Creek Bridge. During this time, a flash back of Peyton's past life begins to infer the reasons why he is being hung.

Rising Action: At this time, Peyton is dropped from the bridge with a rope tied tightly around his neck only for him to heroically escape from his attempted execution. The executioners begin to panic and start shooting at Peyton as he begins to swim down the river away from the bridge. Once Peyton reaches the shore he begins to run home through the woods to his family.

Climax: Finally, Peyton reaches his home and runs into his wife's embrace. Suddenly, Peyton feels a sharp pain in his neck and sees a bright, white light surround him. Peyton Farquhar was dead and his time in the river, woods, and with his wife was all an attempt to escape the reality of his death.

Falling Action and Resolution: Because Peyton never reached his family and never actually escaped his hanging and died in the end, I did not see a falling action or a resolution. I do not think that Peyton dying resolved the story.


I think that the theme of, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," is denial. During his time leading up to his execution and his time being hung, Peyton allowed himself to believe that he was escaping his death. The reality of life is that death is inevitable and by letting yourself believe that you can control the way you die and deny that it is happening will only give a person false hope. Peyton Farquhar let his mind wander and imagine what would happen if he escaped. In the end it only made things worse for himself by giving in to these thoughts.



The main conflict of the story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," is an external conflict. The external conflict is between the Protagonist Peyton Farquhar and his executioners. His executioners want to hang him for attempting to burn a bridge at the hint of a soldier. It was said that, "any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its bridges, tunnels, or trains will be summarily hanged" (15). This conflict obviously matters to the Protagonist because the executioners could very well end his life. As well as the primary external conflict in this story, I think that there is a secondary conflict that is internal. This conflict is between Peyton and his mind trying to grasp the reality of him being hung and escaping to his imagination in order to make things easier for himself. I think that this is a conflict because it makes the situation that he is in much more difficult to go through.

Literary Device

One of the most prevalent literary devices in this short story is the use of similes. The author is constantly using these similes to enhance the readers experience and give you two things in every day life that you are able to compare to in order to improve your understanding. One simile in particular really helped me to picture what the Protagonist was going through at the time would be when he is trying to swim from the gun fires of his executioners. "The water roared in his ears like the voice of Niagara" (18). I was able to use this simile to better my understanding of the feelings of the Protagonist as well as connect it back to my life and think of the times that I have felt this feeling.
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Compelling Aspect

When I first started reading this story I was not anticipating the large internal struggle that the Protagonist was having. Peyton Farquhar was looking deep within his brain to make his death less painful. As humans, death is inevitable and for someone to believe that they were going to get out of a situation that was as airtight as this one is still crazy to me. I would like to think that if I was placed in this situation I would understand that everyone has different endings and this is mine. The one thing that I wouldn't want to do was make my going much more painful than it had to be. I feel that this is exactly what the Protagonist did, he envisioned himself escaping, going home to his family, and running into his wife's arms, only to come to reality and realize it was only in your head. I think the way that this story was written was in a way that made you believe that everything was true and Peyton was going to escape. The story ends with one sentence explaining that Peyton escaping was only a dream. At first I was just upset that this happened but then I started thinking of this story on a deeper level and how people are looking for a way to imagine their lives in a better way than it is at that particular moment in time. After reading this story, filling in a readers guide, and finally writing this, I am still thinking of this moment in the story and I think that all readers will too.