Why was Peyton Farquhar hanged?
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In the Ambrose Bierce short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," the main character Peyton Farquar is about to be hanged from a railroad bridge in Alabama. But when he steps between the planks, the rope breaks and he tumbles into the river below. Or does he? We know that Farquar is a wealthy Alabama plantation owner who has attempted to set fire to the Owl Creek Bridge, but before he can do so, he is caught and tried as a spy. He is sentenced to be hanged, but it appears to the reader that Farquar has escaped and returned home to his family. Only in the last sentence of the story does the reader find that
"Peyton Farquar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge."
Farquhar is a loyal Southerner during the Civil War. He is tricked by a Union scout masquerading as a Confederate soldier into believing he could stop a Yankee advance into Southern territory by destroying the railroad bridge at Owl Creek. When he attempts to do this, he is captured by the Union Army and sentenced to hang.
Farquhar was unable to participate in the war for causes that Bierce does not explain. His lack of action, along with the trick of the Federal scout goad his pride into trying to burn the bridge before the Union Army can advance further. I believe the threat of being hanged for trying this provokes his pride further to try it. It would be his chance to lay his life on the line for the cause he believes in. The scout used pride as bait to lure out any meddling southern citizens.
Remember, this story is about how individuals interpret the The mind sees what it wants to. Of all the sensory input he contorts throughout the story it first starts with the scout. He believed that he was encountering a chance to prove his worth and dedication to the cause. Instead he is duped by a spy seeking to expose partisans.
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