Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

By Michael Do62cf9d7dd7f1d5cec28414493b31091c

If there is any distance between life and death, then what may happen with a dying human’s thoughts in this very moment before he gives up the ghost?

In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Ambrose Bierce told us the story of the wandering soul of a man whose body was swinging like a pendulum beneath the timber of the Owl Creek Bridge.

The article consists of three parts. In part one, the author described the overall spectacle of where the execution was being prepared. The story happened at a particular time in the American Civil War. The Federal army had occupied the Owl Creek Bridge, where a civilian southerner was about to be hanged by his enemies. Sounds of sharp percussion in the condensed silence created an atmosphere of seriousness added by the indifferent manner of the execution team. In the last few seconds of his life, the victim thought of escaping and going home, where his loved ones were waiting for his return.

Part two gives some information about the man. As a planter and slaveholder, Peyton Farquhar ardently devoted himself to the Southern cause to protect the rights of the states and the conservation of slavery. Unfortunately, his plot, inferring with the Owl Creek Bridge, was unveiled by a Federal scout, and he was sentenced to death.

The third part is the most important one that carries Bierce’s central idea. He described Peyton’s last efforts to struggle for his life. Those efforts proceeded within the domain of subconsciousness as the drive to survive flashed back in his brain. Peyton was not quite dead at once. Death came gradually to each element of his body. No later, he was hanged; he lost consciousness; he could neither think nor do anything. He only had the power to feel, and the feeling was torment. Then, the power of thought was restored. Dream and reality mixed up then and proceeded disorderly in his subconsciousness. They reflected the struggle and desire which Peyton could not achieve in real life. He saw himself escaping from death with an extraordinary force and was on his way home. As he almost reached his goal and was about to clasp his wife, the last cells of his brain perished. He was totally dead.

Ambrose Bierce might be very knowledgeable as a psychoanalyst since the concept of consciousness and unconsciousness is extremely difficult to describe. Few people have ever experienced the death and revival to tell us their feelings. Even if they could do so, it is to believe they are telling the truth.

Through the story, we learn to apprehend the deep feeling of sharing the suffering of our fellow miserable man.