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There are several examples of foreshadowing in the Ambrose Bierce short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Most of these occur in Part III of the story. Peyton Farquar feels a "sense of suffocation" after he falls into the water. After the noose supposedly breaks, "He swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation," which foreshadows his body swinging from the railroad gallows. While in the water, "All was dark and cold"; it actually suggests his death by hanging. Other examples include:
- "A rising sheet of water... stangled him."
- He "whirled round and round."
- "A strange roseate light shone through the spaces among their trunks and the wind made in their branches the music of Aeolian harps."
- "How softly the turf had carpeted the untraveled avenue--he could no longer feel the roadway beneath his feet!"
- "A blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like the shock of a cannon--then all is darkness and silence!"
Another example of foreshadowing in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is to be found in what is going through Peyton Farquhar's mind as he is standing on the bridge with a noose around his neck waiting to be hanged.
He unclosed his eyes and saw again the water below him. "If I could free my hands," he thought, "I might throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By diving I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, reach the bank, take to the woods and get away home."
The reader will certainly notice this passage because anyone who was going to be hanged would be thinking about the possibility of escaping. And the only possibility of escaping in such a situation would be to fall into the water and get carried downstream while staying underwater as much as possible to evade the soldiers' bullets. It turns out that what Farquhar is thinking is pretty much what he imagines actually happens, except that he doesn't free his hands and get rid of the noose until the rope seems to break and he finds himself in the water. He had also noted that the creek, though only a creek, was full of rushing water at that time of year. So it was easy to imagine that it had carried him very quickly out of rifle range.
The whole story of Farquhar's apparent escape and flight to his home would only have occurred in the condemned man's imagination if he had been thinking about how to escape just before he fell between the cross-ties with the noose around his neck.
As these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the doomed man's brain rather than evolved from it the captain nodded to the sergeant. The sergeant stepped aside.
Ambrose Bierce's psychological adventure story is certainly a departure from the standard format of traditional short stories as it is a narrative presented from three different points of view. Added to this unusual format, the story begins in chronological order, but then breaks to a flashback which, of course, illuminates some of the plot's details.
- The title itself is an example of foreshadowing as the word "occurrence" causes the reader to wonder what is meant by a word with such a neutral connotation that, perhaps, is meant to mislead or disarm the reader.
- In Part II, the wealthy planter Peyton Farquhar is "devoted to the Southern cause." He "chafed under the inglorious restraint, longing for the release of his energies...."
- The appearance of the soldier who rides up and tells Farquhar of the Yanks' repairing of the railroads portends a certain danger.
- In Part III, there is a description of Farquhar falling straight downward through the bridge and losing consciousness and "was as one already dead."
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