Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge

May 25, 2010
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” by Ambrose Bierce, is a very suspenseful story that takes place during the Civil War. It tells of a successful civilian slave owner, Peyton Farquhar, who is captured and hanged for attempted sabotage. The plot line follows a young man’s imaginary escape from death. Bierce’s writing is very effective in his unique use of distortion of time through flashbacks, imagination, and focus on hope.

Flashbacks from Peyton’s life are integrated throughout the story. The parts of the story that incorporate the flashbacks are very key in distorting time and giving suspense. They show why the man was preparing to be hanged, and the some background of his life. One reason the flashbacks help to show distortion in time is that they are placed in important parts of the story, and it’s often difficult to know what time in his life all of it takes place.

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” truly shows the power that the mind has in using imagination. Ambrose Bierce is very deceiving throughout this story, because he does not tell you that Peyton’s “escape” is all in his head, and not actual reality. Almost half of the story includes a detailed description of how the young man escapes near death, while all along the entire scenario was being imagined. “Then all at once, with terrible suddenness, the light about him shot upward with the noise of a loud plash; a frightful roaring was in his ears, and all was cold and dark” (533). This is a clear example of how powerful Peyton’s imagination had become, because none of this actually took place. The imagination in the story also helps distort time, because the entire scene where he is “getting away,” which is about two pages of writing, actually only takes a few minutes in real time. This is a prime example of how time is distorted through imagination.

The flashbacks and imagination that are shown in the story all tie in with Peyton Farquhar’s focus on hope amidst death. The writing also shows some of Peyton’s job, family, and life, which the reader assumes he loves. When the Federal Sergeant was edging closer to stepping off the plank, Peyton’s focus on hope took over. He wished so badly to get back to his regular life and escape death. “He unclosed his eyes and saw again the water below him. ‘If I could free my hands,’ he thought, ‘I might throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By diving I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, reach the bank, take to the woods and get away home. This sense of hope eventually causes him to actually believe what is not happening.
This shows some distortion in time also, because it plays into his imagination. It also illustrates how far having hope can take a person.

Ambrose Bierce does a phenomenal job in incorporating different interesting elements into “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” The distortion of time, through flashbacks, imagination, and focus on hope, is a very key element in making the story intriguing.

Works Cited
Bierce, ambrose. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” The American Experience. Ed. Eileen Thompson. Englewood Cliffs; Prentice-Hall inc, 1991. 530-536. Print.

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