Literary Analysis of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

May 25, 2010
By Eric Kemp BRONZE, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Eric Kemp BRONZE, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
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Eric Kemp

Mrs. Engle

Advanced Writing

18 April 2010

Literary Analysis of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is written by Ambrose Bierce. This short story takes place during the Civil War. A man, Peyton Farquhar, is caught tarnishing with the bridge and is sentenced to be hanged. Ambrose Bierce designed this piece of literature to keep the readers attention, by going into the mind of Peyton. While standing towards the edge of the plank, Peyton starts to dream of his escape back to his family. In the last paragraph of the story, the author tells of how Peyton is only dreaming and then he is hanged. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is suspenseful due to the effectiveness of flashbacks, the setting, and the use of Peyton’s senses.

Throughout the sequence of this story, the use of flashbacks describes the lifestyle Peyton Farquhar lives before he is caught tampering with the bridge. As the story describes Peyton’s life and work, they tell of how he is “a well-to-do planter, as well as a slave owner who is devoted to the Southern cause”(532). Suspense builds during this particular part of the story because a soldier arrives to their house asking for a drink of water. The soldier tells Peyton, “The Yanks are repairing the railroads…any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its bridges, tunnels or trains will be summarily hanged”(532). Knowing this soldier is a Federal scout from the north and Peyton is a Southern Plantation owner, builds suspense because these two people have entirely different viewpoints of what is right.

The setting, which takes place in the forest, provides a major part of suspense to the story. While Peyton is awaiting his deathbed, he takes a look around to find someone, but “nobody was in sight; the railroad ran straight away into a forest for a hundred yards, then, curving, was lost to view”(531). He feels his life is soon over and “He looked a moment at his “unstead-fast footing”, then let his gaze wander to the swirling water”(531). As he walks home during the nightfall, “black bodies of the trees formed a straight wall on both sides, terminating on the horizon in a point, like a diagram in a lesson in perspective”(535). Suspense is built within the setting, because in his head he thinks the forest lies in a perfect position which makes readers think he could be dreaming.

Standing on the plank, over the bridge he hears a sound, “striking through the thought of his dear ones was a sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil; it had the same ringing quality”(531). His senses begin to broaden. The thought that death is inevitable, institutes a new perspective into Peyton’s life. As Peyton falls into the water, his senses are awaken as he comes to the surface and feels the “ripples upon his face and heard their separate sounds as they stuck”(533). No person, if faced with a situation like this, would be able to think clearly enough to use his or her senses to escape the situation. “He looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual tees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf…” (534). As he takes all of the nature in, he is also planning his route for escape. The shots of canons and muskets fly past his head, only missing him by inches. His senses allow him to know where or where not to move based on the sound of the shot. As Peyton glances over his shoulder he looks straight into the barrel of the musket from a distance where a “normal” person would not be able to see it from. From the front gate of his house, “ he sees a flutter of female garments…as he is about to clasp her he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck”(536). He dies. While dreaming, he feels such a strong passion to get free, his senses tell him that he escapes.

Throughout this short story, suspense is built in flashbacks, the setting, and the use of Peyton’s senses. This story builds up all of the suspense through these three points, then in the last two paragraphs reveals all of the hidden secrets. While Peyton is waiting to be hanged, his thoughts start to run wild and he begins to dream. This starts the chaos of his “escape.” Due to his evasion, the readers are attached to the story only to find out Peyton is dreaming and then dies.

Bierce, Ambrose. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” The American Experience. Ed. Eileen Thompson. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall inc, 1999. 530-536. Print.

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This article has 1 comment.

don 55 said...
on Jan. 14 2015 at 11:05 pm
this was good


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