In "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge' the story is divided into three sections. What are their differences and their separate functions in the story?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The three sections of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" differ in their points of view: the first section is in Omniscient point of view, the second is in Objective point of view, and the third in Third-person Limited which includes stream-of-consciousness.

1. Omniscient point of view

In this section the Realistic elements of Bierce's writing are evinced. With great detail the depiction of the military protocol adds a certain impact as it denotes a tenor that is richly suggestive to the reader with the repetition of silence. For instance, the description of the execution details this silence:

The company faced the bridge, staring stonily, motionless. The sentinels, facing the banks of the stream, might have been statues to adorn the bridge. The captains stood...silent, observing the work of his subordinates, but making no sign.  Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect even by those most familiar with him. In the code of military etiquette, silence and fixity are forms of deference. 

The solemnity of the protocol of the military in deference to Death also helps to magnify the irony that prevails throughout Bierce's narrative as Farquhar's death is a less than glorious condition of war.

2. Objective point of view

The move from Omniscient narrator to Third-person Objective narrator enhances the sense of reality in the story as there is a detailed report on Farquhar and his background and motivation, as well as the circumstances which led to his capture. This narration also refines the element of irony as in the last paragraph the reader learns that the soldier to whom the Farquhar's extended their courtesy is, in fact, a Federal scout.

3. Third Person Limited point of view

From the realistic details of the first two sections, the third section moves to the random thoughts of stream of consciousness.  Time is slowed down and there is an intricate fantasy woven with Farquhar's reverie; in fact, this intricacy plunges the reader into the figments of Farquhar's thoughts, a condition which certainly produces the shock of the brutal, matter-of-fact ending, It also magnifies the irony of Farquhar's name--Gaelic for manly, or brave--along with the delusions of the glorious condition of war.

In his critical essay, "Something Uncanny: The Dream Structure in 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,'" Peter Stolchaff, while acknowledging the clever change of narrators, writes of Bierce's other purposes:

More significantly for Bierce's purposes, though, is that "time" itself, when employed to calibrate human experience, seems to become indeterminate at points of maximum emotional disturbance.

In the first section, there is the silence that seems indeterminate, as well as Farquhar's glance at the driftwood that appears to move slowly.  In the second section, there is a hint of a desultory life as Farquhar and his wife sit one evening on a hickory bench. Finally, in the third section, the reader is placed inside the consciousness of the main character.  There is, indeed, a dreamlike structure that develops and reaches its crescendo at the end.


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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

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