‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” starts with Peyton Farquhar standing on bridge, with his hands tied behind his back and a noose around his neck. His execution is near and he diverts himself from reality and focuses on his imagination in which he is with his wife and children. Again he opens his eyes and sees driftwood in water below. Soon he imagines himself as the driftwood floating and escaping from water, away from his executioners and near his home. He finds his way home, travel throughout the day and when he is about to embrace his wife, the pang of pain in neck and a white light surrounds him, bringing him back to reality. Farquhar is dead, hanging by his neck on Owl Creek Bridge.
The short story “An occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” has one major character, Peyton Farquhar. Farquhar is a planter in south and hails from respected Alabama family. The analysis of the Farquhar character from the story revel the shadowy aspect of his character. Farquhar, being the son of affluent southern farmer has had the life of comfort, not prepared to lead the hard life of the civil war. As the story progresses further, reader is introduced to hazy reasons which rendered Farquhar unable from enlisting himself in confederate army. This however leaves an impact on Farquhar making him eager to join southern cause in order to prove his loyalty. His eagerness paves the way for his destruction as it curtains his rational thinking and he falls prey to the scheme of Northern scout, devised to set him. Farquhar displayed a distinct weakness of character by not realizing his responsibilities towards his family and over-assuming his role in the war and his capabilities. He over-rated his skills and couldn’t see the approaching danger and fell easily in the trap set by the northern scout for him.
The escape visualized by him from his execution demonstrates the extent of his imagination which, in a way paved the way for his death. His imagination and the reality were far different and yet he failed to realize this as he continuously followed his fantasy and desire to prove his loyalty. The visualization of the escape and the actual scenario reveals the difference in the truth and the happy picture imagined by him. This demonstrates the gap between the true identity of Farquhar and his perceived identity. In his imagination, he outsmarts his executioners and returns back to his family whereas in reality, death was inevitable. Farquhar met his death as he was not able to strike a balance between his fantasy and real world. Till his death, the same vice follows him and deludes him which from the very beginning initiated the plot of his death.
The story throughout weaves the strings of illusion and reality together and it is to such extent that readers also consider the illusion reality and are brought back to reality brutally with Farquhar when he realizes that he has not escaped from his executioners. The appearance of northern scout as southerner confederate, portraying one character and having other intentions is also the shuffling of illusion and reality. The last imagination of Farquhar is also his desperate attempt to avoid death and live. As he is about to die, his mind is suggesting him ways to escape which his body can’t achieve.
The story has interesting symbolism in terms of the driftwood and the owl creek bridge. Driftwood, as it is floating down the river is shown to represent Farquhar who starts fantasizing about his freedom with the escape through water and the actual condition of Farquhar which denies him freedom. The driftwood soon takes the shape of Farquhar as he considers himself to be the driftwood floating and escaping in water. The driftwood also displays the impaired sense of time Farquhar has. Upon looking down at the river, he thought that the river is gushing and with the look at driftwood, he thinks that driftwood is floating slowly in the “sluggish stream”. With the driftwood, Farquhar starts his imagination and continues expanding it to the extent that he deifies the reality and reaches his home, avoiding all the executioners and other difficulties. The driftwood hence, ignites the imagination of Farquhar and distinctively represents the freedom which is unattainable for him. The driftwood also plays significant role in the present situation of Farquhar as when Farquhar encountered northern scout, disguised as confederate soldier, he suggested Farquhar to burn the driftwoods which the flood deposits at the foot of the bridge. Hence, driftwood not only symbolizes unachievable freedom and an extension of himself, it is also the cause of the death of Farquhar.
Another symbolic representation in the story is the owl creek bridge. The bridge is an important connection between the south and north territory and was initially burned down by southerners to limit invasion of north scouts in the forests. However, the bridge was re-erected by north scouts to gain access. The bridge represents connection between the two sides just as Farquhar keeps on forming connections between illusion and reality. The passageway between illusion and reality is wide for Farquhar and he usually drifts into illusion and misjudges reality by overestimating his skills, capabilities and burning desire to serve his people. The idea of burning down the bridge instantly appeals to Farquhar and burning of the bridge is similar to burning desire of Farquhar who was so overwhelmed with his emotions that he was unable to see the reality or think rationally. The bridge establishes contact between two sides as does Farquhar between his illusions and reality. With his attempt of burning down the bridge, he attempted to restrict north from accessing deeper areas of forest, similarly as he used to restrict the reality from accessing deeper parts of his brain. He failed to understand the real situation and always based it on his illusions. The north was trying to establish law and order in the south which Farquhar tried to grind down by damaging the bridge; similarly he had grinded down his rational thinking and had severed connection between his thoughts and reality by damaging the bridge between the real situation and his thoughts.
The bridge also symbolizes the severed connection between the spirit and the body of Farquhar when Farquhar mind travels with the driftwood and reaches his home whereas his body is trapped and is going to be executed. The bridge, joining two sides of the river also serve as the connection between the death and life of Farquhar and with Farquhar standing on bridge implicates that he is standing between his life and death.
The story depicts the extent of Farquhar’s imagination and the symbolic expressions of the driftwood and owl creek bridge for Farquhar.
Bierce, Ambrose. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. US, 1890.
goodreads. “goodreads.” An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge. 05 Oct 2011
Gutenberg. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce.” Project Gutenberg. 05 Oct 2011