Ambrose Bierces’ Story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
Ambrose Bierces’ story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” tells the story of a confederate secessionist, who is being hanged by Union troops. At the time of the hanging, the soldiers drop him from the bridge. Luckily, just as he falls the rope snaps and the man dives into the “sluggish stream”. He miraculously takes off his ropes and swims away. When he reaches the bank of the creek, he runs for what seems like forever. He finally reaches home, where his family is waiting so anxiously for him. However, Bierce chooses to surround this intriguing tell with elements that carry visual, concrete, and intangible symbolism. The symbolic elements of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” imply that the protagonist, Peyton Fahrquhar, is out of touch with reality, which evidently leads to the added twist at the end of the story.
Many of the symbols in the story have to do with visual representation. For example, Bierce focuses on one specific color, which is gray. Gray is the color of the Confederate soldiers’ uniforms. It is the also the color the Union soldier wears to deceive Fahrquhar. Gray is the color of the figures he sees in the distance in his delusion. It is also the color of the sharpshooter that misses him. Since gray is mentioned so often, the reader can assume that it has a meaning outside its visual representation.
First, the color gray is used to describe the mood of the story. Generally, when one think of the color gray, a poignant feeling arouses. Linking the two, the mood of the story is therefore also distressing. Secondly, the color gray is used to symbolize Fahrquhars’ role: a middle man without much sense or direction. In the story, the first mention of the color is used to describe him. “He wore a moustache and pointer beard, but no whiskers: his eyes were large and dark grey… ” The reader should also notice that Fahrquar is the only one who sees gray, which means the color, represents him. Gray is the intermediate in character and position. Like Fahrquar, who is considered to be in the middle of the situation, only trying to do what he believes is right.
Bierce use of symbolism is far great than the actually concept of the story. He also uses solid or concrete objects to convey his hidden messages. For example his constant mention of the Bridge. Obviously it is a major element of the story. If it where not for this bridge the story would be pointless or worse, non-existent. Bierce chooses to beginning this captivating tell at a bridge. He writes, “A man stood upon a railroad bridge in Northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water…” He then choose to conclude this tell at the same bridge. He writes, “Peyton Fahrquar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek Bridge.” With so much focus on this element, the bridge, the reader must realize that it offers more than just a setting....