An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

By Ambrose Bierce

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Plot Line

Exposition: The exposition in this story is the introduction of the only main character, Peyton Farquhar, and the direct establishment of the setting (Northern Alabama), and time (Civil War). The author applied distinct and attentive detail to different aspects of the story to help the reader comprehend the complex plot.

Rising Action: Farquhar sees a floating piece of driftwood imagines himself plunging from his placement under a noose into the flowing river beneath him. After escaping from harsh gunfire from soldiers on the bridge above him, he runs through the forest and to his wife and children.

Climax: As Farquhar is about to embrace his wife, reality hits him and he snaps out of his illusion. In this moment, his neck breaks and Farquhar has summarily died from a hanging.

Falling Action: The story essentially ends without a falling action because after the death of Farquhar, there is no following action.

Resolution: There is also no resolution for the same reason there is no falling action.

Theme

The theme from An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is the growing illusion of imagination over time. I see this in the way Farquhar distinctly imagines himself escaping from his hanging block, and running to reach his loved ones. Over time and as the story progresses, the writing becomes more and more vivid, creating an illusion to the reader, almost as if he really is going to be safe. Then, the setting contradictorily changes, "Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck." The entire story sets a theme of illusion, and shows you how powerful the imagination can be when you really yearn for something.

Characters

Peyton Farquhar

Farquhar is the main and only visually depicted, characterized character in this story. This is done through direct and indirect characterization in his actions and conversations throughout the plot. Through direct characterization we are told that he was about 33 years old, a well-respected civilian, a kind, non-vulgar gentleman, and a planter. Through indirect characterization we also learn many things about Farquhar, but these depictions require more attention to specific detail in the storyline.

"No service was too humble for him to perform in aid of the South, no adventure too perilous for him to undertake if consistent with the character of a civilian who was at heart a soldier" (14). This line shows that Farquhar is outgoing, adventurous, and caring, all in one sentence. You can see here that this is shown through an action, and not through specifically stating these characteristics.

Others

In this short story, although there are other characters such as Farquhar's wife, children, Federal Scout, and the executioners, no one is characterized as much as Farquhar to really understand what they are like as people.

Conflict

The major conflict of the story is an external conflict. This means that it is not a conflict inside someone's head. The issue is between Peyton Farquhar, the protagonist, and the men that want to hang him. Peyton intentionally attempted to burn down the Owl Creek Bridge, which is why he is being hung. In a conversation between Farquhar and a friend, it is said that "any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its bridges, tunnels, or trains will be summarily hanged" (15). Peyton knew that of he tampered with the bridge, he would be killed, but he did anyways. Although the main conflict is external, there is another internal conflict as well, between Farquhar and his mind. Throughout the entire story, Peyton battles between the thought of reality and imagination, and this causes his problematic situation to become even more so. While he tricks himself into thinking he is safe, and being with family, he really is not, and this makes the impact of reality, and him being hung, much more intense.

Literary Device

Imagery

Everything that happens in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, even small events/objects, seem to be described so distinctly, through imagery. The author's visually descriptive language allows the reader to comprehend what's happening, and even go beyond the basic meaning of the story through envisioning. Bierce describes the soldiers in formation, "the butts of the rifles on the ground, the barrels inclining slightly backwards against the right shoulder, the hands crossed upon the stock" (12). This shows imagery because you can really imagine what the soldiers look like, and what they are doing, all through words.

Compelling Aspect

Out of any short story I have read throughout this unit, there seemed to be something extremely compelling about this one. The aspect of imagination, and the way Farquhar so strongly wanted to escape the rope, that he seemingly went into a third dimension of the mind, was so intriguing. One would have to have an exceedingly active imagination to escape like the protagonist does here. It almost seems insane to me. The story ends with a sentence that explains Peyton's neck breaking, and how everything was solely a dream. At first I was disappointed with the conclusion because I had been so drawn to the plot, that I thought he really would embrace his wife; then, I dug a little deeper, and came to admire the convincing qualities of the writing, and the author's ability to connect the reader to the main character. After reading this, I had to read it again, and I think other reader's would feel the same way.