What is the function of the flashback in section two and why is it placed there?
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Bierce strategically places the flashback on section two for three reasons:
1) to maintain suspense as to Peyton's fate; Bierce breaks an otherwise linear timeline in order to "trick" the reader into hoping that Peyton might somehow, miraculously, escape the northerners.
2) to inform the reader about the circumstances which led to Peyton's hanging.
3) To establish that the narrator is an omniscient one whose story is taking place in about 10 seconds of real time, whereas the "story time" is several days longer.
This story is divided into three sections. The first section takes place in the present and describes the scene of Farquhar's hanging. Flashback is used in the second section of the story to tell the reader how Farquhar ended up at the end of a rope about to be hanged. Information given in a flashback is needed in order for the reader to better understand the character and the present events of the story. The flashback in this story is very important. We learn in the flashback that Farquhar was set up by Northern soldiers to try to destroy Owl Creek Bridge. This develops more sympathy for Farquhar and greater understanding of his act to try and burn the bridge. We don't just see him as a renegade but also as a family man. We also get some of Farquhar's feelings in this section. I think it makes us more willing to believe that Farquhar just might have escaped the noose and is on his way home. By making it more believable, we are more shocked by the ending of the story.
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