Farquhar’s Alternate Realities As A Means Of Escape

1738 words - 7 pages

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce is the story of Peyton Farquhar, a thirty-five year old successful Southern planter, who longs for the glory of a soldier’s service to prove the courage that he possesses. His story is told through three sections. In section I, Farquhar is standing upon the edge of Owl Creek Bridge waiting to be hanged. Farquhar closes his eyes to think about his wife and children, but he is distracted by a metallic sound which turns out to be the ticking of his watch. After opening his eyes and looking down at the water, Farquhar thinks about freeing his hands to swim to the bank and make his escape. In section II, Farquhar flashes back to the events that led to his punishment. One day, a Northern scout disguised as a Confederate soldier visits the plantation. The scout brings news that the Yankees have advanced and are repairing the railroads and have built a fort near Owl Creek Bridge. The scout also relays that the Yankee commander has issued an order to hang any civilian caught interfering with the railroad. Farquhar asks how a civilian would go about helping the Confederates succeed, and the scout tells him how easy it would be to burn the bridge. In section III, Farquhar’s mind returns to the present when he loses consciousness as he falls off the bridge. A sharp pain in his neck and the sense of suffocation awakens him. The soldiers fire at him as he swims, but Farquhar escapes into the woods and makes it back home to his wife. He is about to embrace her when he feels a blow on the back of his neck. Farquhar is dead, his body swings on the side of Owl Creek Bridge. In order to escape the actuality of the current state of his life, Farquhar deceives himself into believing that it is possible achieve glory, thus creating temporary realities as an attempt to escape his circumstances.
When presented with the ability to be the hero he always dreamt of, Farquhar allows himself to be deceived, as an attempt to escape reality. Farquhar, a slave owner devoted to the Southern cause, has a “romantic and idealized view of war” (“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” 163). Farquhar feels that “no service was too humble for him to perform in the aid of the south, no adventure to perilous for him to undertake if consistent with the character of a civilian who was at heart a soldier” (Bierce 339). He is obsessed with the opportunity for distinction and honorable service, believing he is meant to be a soldier. However, Farquhar is unable to achieve his service due to “circumstances of an imperious nature” that had “prevented him from taking service with the gallant army that had fought the disastrous campaigns” (Bierce 339). Farquhar deceives himself into believing that it is possible to be the hero he has always fantasized. Although he firmly believes that he has the heart of a soldier, he does not have the instincts of a soldier. He is so consumed with achieving the glory he so wants to attain that he ignores clues...

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