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What does this story illustrate about human beings?

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kko | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 27, 2009 at 9:18 AM via web

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What does this story illustrate about human beings?

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted May 27, 2009 at 10:06 AM (Answer #1)

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kko,

Ambrose Beirce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" takes place in northern Alabama during the Civil War. Union forces are in control. In Section II, we infer that Farquhar, almost the only character, was lured or even entrapped into an attempt to blow up Owl Creek Bridge. He was then caught, tried, and sentenced to death by hanging from the bridge which he had tried to destroy.

This story is Bierce’s subject in contrasting the real passage of time with our human perception of time. It is centered in the consciousness of the central character, Farquhar. As the narrator moves into Farquhar’s mind the reader is led to believe, at least temporarily, in the details of the escape. 

The imagined time of Farquhar’s escape is an entire day, from earliest daylight to night. That his “escape” is so lengthy permits an enormous amount of imaginary action to take place within no more than a few seconds of his last time on earth.

First we learn of the slowing of his watch, followed by his dream or belief that he is actually escaping. (This same perception persists once he is actually being hanged.) In paragraph 37, the narration becomes abruptly and cruelly dramatic. There is no more looking into Farquhar’s mind, because he is dead.

Hasn't this discrepancy of time happened to everyone? Imagining what a different life would be like, all in the matter of seconds?

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pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 28, 2009 at 7:30 AM (Answer #2)

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In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge the author illustrates the ability that human beings possess to make decisions based on a desire for recognition and glory.  Peyton Fraquhar volunteers to blow up the Owl Creek Bridge in an effort to help the South and to distinguish himself, draw attention to himself.  He is not a soldier and he longs to contribute to the cause, so he falls into the trap set by the Union Scout.  But he is also well aware that anyone caught conspiring to blow up the bridge will be executed.

His decision and choices reflect foolish pride.  He does not consider his family, his wife and children when he decides to blow up the bridge.  It is only after the fact, when he is caught that we are made aware of how sorry he is for what he did.

The story also illustrates the human behavior of regret.  Peyton Farquhar is a man filled with anguish and regret at his rash decision to try to distinguish himself in the Southern cause.  His only thoughts as he is about to be hung are for his family.  He is stricken with remorse and sadness at what he has  lost.

I think that the story teaches the reader about the consequences of spontaneous decisions driven by emotions that need to be contained.  It is Farquhar's pride, his desire for recognition, his ego, that causes him to make such as fatal decision.  

"Because he dies at the end of the story, Farquhar is sometimes considered a sympathetic and brave character, but many have found him to be callous, foolhardy, and obsessed with honor." 

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