Levi Savage Lowe
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is a short story by Ambrose Bierce, published in 1890. Bierce was an American author who served in the Civil War, and wrote a book called Tales of Soldiers and Civilians, which contained short stories such as “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.” It is a well-written story, but it is also quite a dark story that many people enjoy. SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers about the ending of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” In 2005, Author Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “I consider anybody a twerp who hasn’t read the greatest American short story, which is ‘[An] Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,’ by Ambrose Bierce. It isn’t remotely political. It is a flawless example of American genius, like ‘Sophisticated Lady’ by Duke Ellington or the Franklin stove.”
In the beginning, Peyton Farquhar, the main character of the story, is accompanied by enemy guards who are preparing to execute him. It is confusing if Farquhar really deserves to be put to death, and readers are intrigued to know what he did to achieve the sentence of being hanged on a bridge. The sorry is very suspenseful, but readers can be relieved to find that these mysteries are revealed in the second part of the story.
“He was a federal scout.” The story soon allowed its eager readers to understand why Farquhar was being hanged at the bridge. Farquhar was caught trying to burn down the bridge in order to keep the army from crossing it, and the scout lured him there by telling him how the timber seems quite flammable. Once Farquhar’s hanging began taking place in part three, the story took its dark turn, and it is apparent that the story had truly begun.
The description of how Farquhar was feeling as he was hanging over the stream was very powerful and truly prompted the audience to reimagine the entire gruesome situation as it played out. The story is written so the reader can feel the pain Farquhar was going through every step of the process. Suddenly, the rope had broken and Farquhar had fallen into the river, and readers could instantly feel the mental and emotional pressure release from their psyches. At this point in the story, Farquhar’s likability is controversial. It seemed like he had betrayed his country and might deserve to die for what he had done, but it also seemed as if he had been backed into a corner and he needed to be a scout for the federals if he wanted to keep his wife and children safe.
From this point on, it was tempting to feel hopeful for Farquhar escaping and returning to his family. Readers could feel the intensity in his mind as he ran from the soldier after getting out of the river, but were skeptical because of how lucky Farquhar’s dreadful occurrence was turning out for him: the luck of having the rope break right before he died and all of the bullets he was able to dodge, even by the marksmen shooters. It seemed as if he his luck was unrealistic, which actually ended up being confirmed in the last sentence of the story—it wasn’t real.
“Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek Bridge.” This final sentence was quite a twist ending that took the readers by surprise to find out that just about all of part three was just a vision that Farquhar was imaging right before he died. His mind was creating a scenario in which all of the luck he needed occurred so that he would be able to see his family one last time before the void of death swallowed him whole.
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was a great story that experimented with the idea of life flashing before our eyes right before we die. This is a truly enjoyable and historic short story that is not only entertaining with its plot twist of an ending, but is also educational and is a great story to teach to students.
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