Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce Review

  • Category: Literature,
  • Pages: 4
  • Words: 1076
  • Published: 31 March 2021
  • Copied: 142


In “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” Bierce shares the story of Farquhar, a confederate farmer turned saboteur who is executed at the hands of federal troops during the American Civil war. Through the protagonist, the former soldier Bierce conveys that war is a terrible situation that turns once normal people into violent beings through the use of vivid imagery, dramatic irony, and strong verbiage.

Bierce can demonstrate the hardships of war by giving a glimpse into the former lives of Farquhar's executioners. For example, through the description of the federal sergeant preparing to execute the protagonist Farquhar. In this example, the reader is given insight in regards to the former job occupation of the sergeant. “...  supplied a footing for him and his executioners- two private soldiers of the federal army, directed by a sergeant who in civil life may have been a deputy sheriff ( Bierce 87).”  The ability to know that the sergeant’s jobs were in prewar times helps to demonstrate the negative effects that war brings. Ideally, the basic precept of a sheriff is to provide law and order for the community as somewhat of a “guardian”. In this instance, the sheriffs are “serving” the community through the sentence of death, which incites fear rather than calm. To go from for the most part a positive community figure to someone who enforces the death penalty is a drastic change and one that is completely caused by war. This message can also be seen through the description of Farquhar at the beginning of the story. In this example, the description was supposed to paint Farquhar as a noncombatant. “ The man who was engaged in being hanged was apparently about thirty-five years of age. He was a civilian if one might judge from his habit, which was that of a planter (87).” As a planter, no one would expect a planter to be pulled into the war effort, not to mention being executed by federal troops. However, this was not the case for Farquhar. He committed a crime and was therefore unable to escape death. Even though Farquhar did commit a crime, Bierce used Farquhar’s story as a way to show that wae spares no one, and especially those who may commit a crime.

Another place where Bierce highlights the woes of war was through his description of the harsh laws and legal systems present during the war. His first example was when Bierce outlined the severity of the legal code. “The liberal military code makes provision for hanging many kinds of persons, and gentlemen are not included.” This is an extreme and significant example because it further points out the draconian nature of war. Since the civil war took place in the United States, one would believe that the rights and liberties, especially the ability to appeal a death sentence, would still be intact. With these “military codes,” due process and the rule of law is thrown out, and the punishment in many regards is death, no matter what the crime was. This style of crime and punishment present only during wartime is yet another example of the perpetual woes that this type of conflict brings. The second example Bierce gave was about the commandant and his harsh orders. “ The commandant has issued an order, which is posted everywhere, declaring that any civilian caught interfering with the railroad… will be summarily hanged… (89).”  The presence of the commandant, like the military code, shows the complete lopsided of the legal system in war. The presence of a judiciary is replaced by a commandant, most likely a military officer, not a judge, who enforces the laws at his whims. The presence of a commandant is the antithesis of the legal system and is yet another example of why war brings only bad.

The Irony developed during the development of the story helps to Aid in the overall negative sentiment developed by Bierce.  At the very end of the story, the reader finds out that, “Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek Bridge (Bierce).” After a dramatic climax where Farquhar had escaped death and gunfire to return to his family, this ending is a sobering reality of the fate of the war. No matter how hard Farquhar wished he could have escaped his imminent death, the war machine he was caught between ensured he would not see the light of day. the deception from the federal scout is yet another example of irony that cements the feeling of dread present throughout the story. After Farquhar had helped the lone scout and set out to damage the bridge, the reader finds out the true intentions of the scout without Farquhar knowing. “He reposed the plantation, traveling northward in the direction in which he had come. He was a federal scout (89).”  Only the reader can infer what will happen to Farquhar, but since Farquhar does not realize he is meeting his eventual demise, which makes the scene more powerful. The irony of the situation helps reinforce the somber mood of the story brought on by war.

Along with irony, description, and comparison, Bierce develops the overall theme of despair and pain through the use of strong verbiage. An example of this literary device could be found during the description of Farquhar's death. “.. By a sense of suffocation. Keen, poignant agonies seemed to shoot from his neck downward through every fiber of his body and limbs (89).” The strong choice of words, such as agonies and “every fiber of his body” is meant to vividly convey the pain that Farquhar is feeling. The result of the word choice is that it sets. Disturbing tone, which is the intended effect from Bierce to continually convey the horror and malcontent that arises as a result of the war. In addition, The description of Farquhar’s escape also helps to develop the same message. When Farquhar was escaping, it described the science as, “the hunted man saw all this over his shoulder; he was now swimming vigorously with the current (91).” In the scenario, Farquhar is being described as being “hunted,” practically rendering him to that of an animal. The dehumanization that Farquhar experienced as a result of the side he chose in the war brings out the fact once again that war does not bring any good.

In conclusion, through the ability to see characters' previous lives, the strict legal system during wartime, the dramatic irony developed, and the strong verbiage used, it is clear that Bierce wanted to convey a sense of dread in regards to war. “The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” presented a reader with the dark and dismal side of the war, and the intended effect was to demonstrate that war is not a good situation that brings bad and despair. Through different styles of writing, Bierce was able to convey this point.