An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge

By Ambrose Bierce


"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is a story about a man who is being hung by the Union in Alabama during the Civil War. The man, Peyton Farquhar, was led into a trap by a Union scout disguised as a Confederate soldier. The scout told Peyton that the Union was using the Owl Creek Bridge as an important railroad route, and Peyton, being devoted to the Southern Cause, sets off to sabotage the bridge, despite being told the penalty for trying to do so is death by hanging. The conflict centers around Peyton and the hanging, after he is caught. He has an external conflict against the noose and the Union soldiers on the Bridge who are going to execute him.
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Plot Line

  • Exposition: The disguised Union soldier tricks Peyton into trying to sabotage the Bridge.
  • Rising Action: The soldiers at the bridge capture Peyton and prepare to hang him.
  • Climax: The noose breaks and Peyton falls into the creek.
  • Falling Action: Peyton escapes the soldiers at the bridge and travels back to his home.
  • Resolution: Just as Peyton embraces his wife, he appears at the Bridge again and is hung. This brutal ending shows Irony, because you would expect Peyton to have escaped, but it turned out it was just a daydream: "Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge" (21).

Situational Irony

This story uses situational irony as a literary device. When Peyton escapes, it is revealed at the end that he never did escape, and it in fact was all just a daydream. This is ironic because the reader would expect when he escaped for that to be real, when it wasn't.
Situational irony: The opposite of what you think - Christopher Warner

The Effects of War on Civilians

In this story, a civilian man, Peyton Farquhar, is executed by Union soldiers. This is because he was tricked by a disguised Union scout, who told him the bridge could be burned down. Peyton Farquhar, while he is a secessionist, was a humble and caring man, who always wanted to help his state and the South. His wife and children now have to go through life without him, and he is tricked and executed at the bridge he was told could be burned down.

Most Compelling Aspect

The irregular time sequence of the story really adds to its effect on a reader. By having a flashback and then a daydream, then coming back to reality at a crucial moment is a very unique way to write a story. When Peyton is about to be hung, there is a flashback to when the disguised Union scout tells him about the bridge. Then it flashes forward to when Peyton's hanging fails and him escaping. Once he gets home it goes back and he is hung, and it is revealed that his escape wasn't real. This plot twist at the end, combined with the unique time sequence, really makes this story unique and interesting.