“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Bierce

In what ways are the condemned man’s perceptions of time and motion distorted as he is waiting to be hanged?

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Ambrose Bierce uses the stream of consciousness literary style to present some aspects of the story that take place in Peyton’s imagination. Peyton believes that everything has a slow and distorted motion (Stoicheff 349). In addition, the sound of the clock sounds so unnatural to Peyton. For instance, Peyton observes, “How slowly it appeared to move! What a sluggish stream!” (Bierce 1). In addition, Peyton also hears a different sound that distracts his attention. The sound originated from his watch, but it sounded like that of a “blacksmith’s hammer”(Bierce 1).

Farquhar’s perceptions about reality and time changes when is waiting for death by hanging. For instance, he notes that objects and time were rather moving slowly. Initially, water under the Owl Creek Bridge races madly, but suddenly slows down. Moreover, when the condemned man falls when he is hanged, he only has few seconds prior to his death, but he explores several events in his mind, which could last for many hours. Peyton’s home is thirty miles away from the bridge, but he reaches there in few seconds in his imagination. On this note, Bierce writes that, “He must have travelled the entire night” (Bierce 1). Time drags slowly for the condemned man as he dies. Farquhar’s mind slips into a dream in which he runs away from death when the weight of his body breaks the rope (Bierce 1). Peyton also believes that he is swimming to a secure ground under intense shooting of guns where he returns to his farm. This is rather a short imagination, but to Peyton, it takes several hours when he is escaping from reality and death.

What is ironic about the fact that Farquhar agrees with the saying that “all is fair in love and war?”

The outcome of the story creates a situational irony for Farquhar because there is discrepancy between Farquhar’s expectations and the actual outcome. Farquhar believes that he can perform any role as a soldier to assist the South (Blume 211). He learns from the soldiers that the bridge consists of driftwood, and it would burn fast. Ironically, Farquhar wants to set the bridge on fire when in reality the bridge would become his place of death. He watches as the two soldiers separate the plank “on which he had been standing” (Bierce 1). This marks the start of Farquhar’s death.

Bierce notes, “frankly villainous dictum” to depict the ironical situation of Farquhar because he should be a sympathetic hero rather than a victim of war. Moreover, Farquhar’s views about war are not realistic because he thinks of ‘a larger life of the soldier’ and gallant army (Yost 247). Further, irony is also in his imagined escape plan. Farquhar thinks of freeing, throwing off the noose, and jumping into the water. He also imagines of gunshots that would follow, but Farquhar imagines that he would miss them, dive, and swim to safety and eventually get home to his wife and children (Bierce 1). However, this is an attempt to escape death and reality through imagination.

What details in Part III suggests that Farquhar’s journey occurs in his mind? How is the journey connected with the plan of escape that occurs to him moments before he is hanged?

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Bierce begins Part III with the description of the death of Farquhar. However, several details constantly come to Farquhar’s mind just few seconds before his death. These events occur when Farquhar already is in the water. It is the sense of time and Farquhar’s perception of reality that he envisages an escape and a flight back to his wife and children. Farquhar imagines that he may manage to free his hands, remove the noose around his neck, and escape to safety (Bierce 1). Farquhar believes that by nightfall he would be with his wife and children. Farquhar even thinks that he has found the right direction back to his home.

Point of view refers to the vantage point from which the story is told. Why is the limited third-person point of view appropriate for this story? How might the story be different if Bierce had used an omniscient third-person narrator?

By using the limited third-person point of view, Bierce achieves several advantages in the story. First, readers can understand the writer’s perspective about the character. Hence, readers can rely on characters to understand the full account of the story. Second, a limited third-person perspective provides a less biased presentation of the story. Hence, there are no subjective, personal opinions in the story. Readers can understand Bierce’s perspective of the story without attaching personal meaning to it. Finally, it helps readers to identify significant character in the story. Hence, readers can have a clear perspective on how they should view characters in the short story.

On the other hand, the use of the third-person omniscient narrator would change the perspective of the story. The voice of the author would be prominent in the story. Moreover, the narrator would appear as an ‘all-knowing’ storyteller. For instance, the narrator would explore the private thoughts of characters, present secret events, and explore elements of space and time inconsistently. Moreover, omniscient narrator does not provide full accounts of the story, at least not until the story reaches its climax. In other words, there would be suspense and many unanswered questions in the story (the hermeneutic code). Still, the narrator may even change the order of the events in the short story. Hence, the use of the limited third-person perspective allows readers to follow the story objectively in time and space and understand Farquhar’s points of view.

Works Cited

Bierce, Ambrose. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. 1891. Web.

Blume, Donald. Ambrose Bierce’s Civilians and Soldiers in Context: A Critical Study. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2004. Print.

Stoicheff, Peter. “Something Uncanny’: The Dream Structure in Ambrose Bierce’s ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Studies In Short Fiction 30.3 (1993): 349–358. Print.

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Yost, David. “Skins Before Reputations: Subversions of Masculinity in Ambrose Bierce and Stephen Crane.” War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities 19.1-2 (2007): 247–260. Print.

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