In "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," why does his watch tick so loudly?  

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Occurrence as Owl Creek," Peyton Farquhar is being hanged for interfering with the railroad. At one point, when Farquhar is waiting to be hung, he begins to think about his family (his wife and children). Unfortunately for Farquhar, his thoughts of his family are interrupted by a "disturbance."

He wondered what it was, and whether immeasurably distant or near by-- it seemed both. Its recurrence was regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell. He awaited each new stroke with impatience and--he knew not why--apprehension.

Unbeknownst to Farquhar, the sound he was hearing was his watch.

This illusion has been used may times in literature (perhaps the most renowned story which uses this overwhelming sound is Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart"--where the narrator hears his own heart beat).

That said, the ticking of the watch is not really loud (the soldiers cannot hear it, only Farquhar can). The watch is the one thing which keeps Farquar in the present. Ironically, the watch's ticking almost seems to hypnotize him (putting him into a dream state). This dream state allows Farquar to escape his hanging, escape gunfire, and return home to embrace his wife. Therefore, the ticking of the watch is used to represent Farquhar's journey into a world where he has escaped death. 


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