The Major Themes in an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce

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About this sample


Words: 796 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Apr 14, 2021

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Words: 796|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Apr 14, 2021

The Major Themes in an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
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The essay analyzes Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," focusing on its themes, style, and the manipulation of time within the narrative.

The story is set during the Civil War, depicting the execution of Peyton Farquhar, a Confederate sympathizer who attempted to sabotage a Union railroad bridge. The primary themes explored are the idea that courage involves accepting fear rather than the absence of it and the fluidity of time.

The theme of courage is exemplified by Farquhar's desperate attempt to escape from his captors despite the imminent danger. As he faces execution, his emotions fluctuate, symbolized by his swinging "like a vast pendulum" between courage and fear. His hallucinatory escape reflects both his bravery and his acceptance of death. Furthermore, Farquhar's thoughts of his family provide him comfort and symbolize home and safety in the face of death.

The theme of time's fluidity is intertwined with the narrative structure. The story unfolds with shifting timelines, moving between the present, past, and Farquhar's hallucinatory experiences. This manipulation of time influences the reader's perception of Farquhar's character and actions. It also highlights the psychological effects of impending death, as Farquhar's mind slows down time to offer him solace and the illusion of a peaceful return to his family.

Ultimately, the essay argues that these two themes work in harmony, as Farquhar's courage in accepting his fate allows his mind to manipulate time, providing him with a sense of peace before his execution. The story explores how courage and the fluidity of time can shape one's experience of death, especially during times of war.

An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge was written by Ambrose Bierce, a writer who fought for the Union Army in the Civil War. It was the story on the theme of war, about a civilian man Peyton Fahrquhar of Alabama, who was sympathetic to the Confederate Army and the Southern cause. To help the Confederate Army against the Union Army, he burned down a railroad bridge that the Union Army was using. He was being sentenced to death by hanging under the supervision of officers and soldiers of the Union Army. As the title also suggests that the execution of Fahrquhar, that was happening at the Owl Creek Bridge. Before ending the story, Ambrose does a plot twist and keeps the readers wondering whether Fahrquhar is dead or not. But one thing is clear that Peyton Fahrquhar was willing to do anything for his side to win the war.

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The theme of the short story is "courage is not the absence of fear but rather the acceptance of it". The second theme of this story is "time is fluid".

The theme of courage is not the absence of fear but rather the acceptance of it because Peyton Farquhar’s dead body was compared to a pendulum which symbolized Peyton’s emotions such as courage, fear, grief, and sadness. “The intellectual part of his nature was already effaced; he had power only to feel, and feeling was torment. He was conscious of motion. Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum.” This relates to the theme because it shows that he was both courageous yet fearful.

Even though it was just a hallucination, before his death, Peyton showed great courage by running away from the Union soldiers and making it to the safety of his home. The soldiers were throwing cannonballs and shooting rifles into the water and on the banks trying to kill Peyton, and despite this, he still managed to escape because his family made him hopeful.

His family symbolizes home and safety. “He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children.” In his last moments all he wanted to do was think about his family because to him they represented home and safety which comforted him in his dying moments.

The setting of this story is very important, specifically the time in which this story took place. The story takes place in 1861 which is at the beginning of the civil war. If the story didn’t take place at this time there would be no story at all because the entire story revolves a man getting hung for supporting the Confederacy. The author uses detailed descriptions which lets me infer that he wanted the reader to know the time period without actually saying that it took place during the civil war.

The second theme of this story, time is fluid, is shown by the structure in which the author wrote this story. The story started with the present, then went to the past, before coming back to the presents. While awaiting his execution Farquhar closed his eyes and entered his mind during which time appeared to slow down. “He awaited each new stroke with impatience and — he knew not why — apprehension. The intervals of silence grew progressively longer; the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency, the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.”

Ambrose Bierce uses time to manipulate the reader into believing things about Peyton Farquhar that may or may not be true. His first description of the character varied from what was shown in the second part of the story. “His eyes were large and dark gray, and had a kindly expression which one would hardly have expected in one whose neck was in the hemp. Evidently this was no vulgar assassin.” Later in the story Bierce describes him as willing to do anything in the name of the south, after all, he was a slave owner himself. He’d even go as far as to destroy the Owl Creek Bridge. The author’s use of switching between the past and the present and using time as a way to influence the readers judgement of a character shows how important of an influence time is on the story. Another example of this theme is that before he actually died, Peyton Farquhar was comforted with the vision of a safe return to his family. This comforted him in a way that allowed his death to be more merciful. His mind saved itself from the pain of experiencing his death with the emotions of grief and sorrow for the fact that he will never see his family again. This supports the theme because an entire night took place inside of Farquhar’s head in what was actually just a few moments before his death.

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The two themes in this story, courage is not the absence of fear but rather the acceptance of it and time is fluid, work together because his courage is what allowed him to escape the so-called boundaries of time and spend his final moments with his family. Peyton accepts his death and as though it were a reward his mind lets him see his family one last time before his death. Death is something that we all must someday accept as a part of life, especially during this time of war when murders and executions were a part of everyday life.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Major Themes in an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce. (2021, April 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
“The Major Themes in an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce.” GradesFixer, 14 Apr. 2021,
The Major Themes in an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 13 Apr. 2024].
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