silhouette of a man half submerged in water wiht a noose around his neck

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by Ambrose Bierce

Start Free Trial

What are examples of foreshadowing in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"?

Some examples of foreshadowing in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" include hints that Peyton is functioning in a different time scheme when fast-moving water looks "sluggish" to him, hints at his end when we find out the man in gray who came to call is a Union scout, and suggestions that he is dying by hanging, not escaping, when his tongue sticks out and he can no longer feel the earth below his feet.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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."
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

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!"
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Foreshadowing in literature occurs when the author gives a hint of what is going to occur. An instance of foreshadowing occurs as Peyton Farquhar stands on the bridge in part 1, waiting to be hanged. He looks down at water below. The narrator makes clear that is it rushing at a rapid pace, the "swirling water ... racing madly." However, to Peyton, it looks like it is moving "slowly." He calls it a "sluggish stream." This difference between fast-moving reality and Peyton's slow perception of it foreshadows how time will slow for him at the moment of death, allowing him to have a long, elaborate fantasy of escape.

The idea that real time will move much more quickly than the words recording Peyton's thoughts is foreshadowed a second time when we are told,

these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the doomed man's brain rather than evolved from it.

In other words, the long linear sequence of language is not exactly how Peyton will experience his last images before death.

The revelation at the end of part 2 that the man dressed in gray who has made a polite call at the plantation asking for water is a union scout foreshadows the fact that Peyton has fallen, unbeknownst to him, into the trap that will cost him his life. It is, as well, a moment of dramatic irony, in which the reader knows what characters in a story do not.

The images in part 3 that Peyton fits to his escape fantasy foreshadow that he is, in reality, at the point of death by hanging, choking, his feet dangling in the air:

His tongue was swollen with thirst; he relieved its fever by thrusting it forward from between his teeth into the cold air. How softly the turf had carpeted the untraveled avenue—he could no longer feel the roadway beneath his feet!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Define foreshadowing and give an example of it from "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

Another example of foreshadowing quoted directly from the story comes from the third section.  The third section is a continuation of the first in which the reader finds out that Farquhar is about to be hanged.  The first sentence of this section states,

     “As Peyton Farquhar fell straight downward through the bridge     he lost consciousness and was as one already dead.”

This foreshadows for the reader that at the start of section three, Peyton Farquhar was already dead and that none of the events that are described in that third section ever really happened.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Define foreshadowing and give an example of it from "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

Foreshadowing in literature are clues or hints in the story of events to come later in the story.

In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, the story is a little disordered and the reader gets confused about what happens first.  The first part of the story is what is currently happening, Peyton Farquhar is going to be executed by the Union or Federal Army.  He was caught conspiring to blow up Owl Creek Bridge.  

Standing on the bridge he plotted to destroy, Farquhar, noose around his neck begins to imagine his family, he imagines that he escapes.  Except, the reader does not know whether his imaginings are real or just a dream he has as he is seconds away from death.

In my view, after Farquhar begins to imagine that he has escaped, the whole sequence of events foreshadow the end of the story.  As he escapes in his dream, he swims away, unharmed, while several soldiers are shooting at him in the water.  I found this very suspicious.

Farquhar swims and swims until he can safely leave the water and run onto land.  He then begins to run and run and run, all to get away from Federal forces and back to Southern controlled territory.  He seems to have unlimited energy and ability to travel great lengths.  This is an indication that he is experiencing a fantasy rather than a real event.

"In this section, the narrator's language is often melodramatic. For example, when Farquhar is in the river, fighting to break the rope around his wrists, the narrator declares: "What splendid effort!" and "What superhuman strength!" Additionally, the surroundings are described in the minutest detail, suggesting that Farquhar could not possibly be experiencing what is being described."

Finally, when Farquhar is within sight of his home, there is no sign on the face of his wife of any emotion regarding her husband's impending death.  She appears carefree and happy, unusual behavior on the day of your husband's execution.  The only explanation for this behavior is that she is a vision, as he wants to remember her.

As he reaches out to hug his wife, who remains smiling in a rather wooden fashion, he is literally jolted back to reality, he is swinging from the end of the rope, dead by execution for his crimes against the Union or Federal Army.

Peyton Farquhar is executed, at the end of the story we discover that he was only imagining his escape it was all a dream.    

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on