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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

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February 8, 2016

Short Story in Context

“Argument” Writing Assignment

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

        “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is a story written by Ambrose Bierce that tells the tale of a man named Peyton Farquhar, a southerner born into privilege who lets his own loyal aspirations get in the way of his personal safety. The short story is broken up into three sections. The first section takes place during the American civil war and begins with Peyton Farquhar standing at the edge of Owl Creek Bridge. His hands are tied and there is a noose around his neck. He is facing execution by hanging by the Northern Army. Section two flashes back into Peyton’s life and the reader comes to know that Peyton is a successful farmer with a family who committed sabotage by setting fire to a bridge in order to slow the pace of the North. Section three takes the reader back to the present just as Peyton drops to be hanged till death. Luckily, the rope snaps and Peyton takes on an epic survival journey in order to get back to his family. Once he reaches his wife he feels a severe crack of his neck and sees nothing but darkness. Farquhar was in fact executed and his body hung from the bridge. I believe that the argument of this story is to demonstrate the power of the mind through a manipulation of fantasy and reality. Peyton Farquhar’s mind is able to take him to a timeless realm where fantasy becomes a true reality. This saved Peyton from the truth of his execution but his mind is what brought him to sabotage in the first place.

        When Peyton had almost come to terms with his conviction he spent his last moments thinking about his wife and children. However, through the thoughts of his loved ones there was the ticking of his stopwatch, which commanded his attention more than his loved ones. As the time went on the intervals between the ticking became greater and greater as Peyton awaited wit “impatience(Bierce) for the next tick of the watch. Peyton was now in his own mind in a realm where time is insignificant and where seemingly anything is possible. Just before the soldier dropped Peyton to his death, he imagined a scenario where his might be able to free himself. This fantasy then became a reality for Peyton, as he was able to break free and crash into the water below.

During this exciting vision that his mind had subjected him to, he had real feelings. He could feel the flow of water, pain suffered from falling into the Creek below, and exhaustion from running. His consciousness had fully bought into the fact that he was now going to be able to make a run back to his family, despite the sad truth that he was going to die in the matter of two to three seconds. Bierce writes, “From this state he was awakened – ages later, it seemed to him.” This shows the power of the mind in its ability to manipulate what should be a universal consistency in life, time. This entire third section seemed like hours of hard labor to Peyton but in real time it was merely the time it took for rope to run out of slack. His mind was able to invent a saving grace for himself, as he was able to escape his awful reality into a calming zone where he could avoid death. This demonstrates the power of the mind by saving himself from harsh realities.

In the previous example, the mind was used as a helpful tool. However, this power can also be a reason for concern as his blind faith in the Confederate cause is what leaded him down a mistaken path, which ended his life. Peyton Farquhar was a well off son of an Alabama plantation owning family. He was a slave owner and “he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause” (Bierce). This shows that his belief in the Confederacy was strong and not to be easily extinguished.  He lived a pretty easy life and it did not prepare him for the battles of a Civil War soldier and as a result was not enlisted for the war. This built up as somewhat of a guilty conscience as Peyton longed for an opportunity to show his loyalty. Bierce goes on to tell the reader that Peyton was a “civilian who was at heart a soldier” (Bierce) and that he would do any task or any service if it were to aid the south. His vengeance to make up for his inability to fight was so strong that it misleads him in his journey.



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