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

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by Ambrose Bierce

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What is the irony in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and is there an epiphany?

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The irony of the story is that the reader thinks that Peyton Farquhar has escaped hanging and is trying to get back home. However, at the end of the story, we find that Peyton has been imagining his escape during the time when

"the sergeant stepped aside"

to the last line of the story which reads,

"Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge."

The only epiphany comes for the reader because Peyton, unfortunately is dead. We realize that there were clues throughout the story that told us Peyton was really dying. For instance, when the constant references to how difficult it was to breathe and the fact that from the river, Peyton could,

"saw the individual trees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf--he saw the very insects upon them. . ."

His eyesight is too keen for a man swimming in a river to see such details. He sees that the sharpshooter firing at him " has grey eyes" Finally, as he gets closer "to home", 

"His eyes felt congested; he could no longer close them. His tongue was swollen . . .he could no longer feel the roadway beneath his feet!"

Thus, the reader suddenly discovers that Bierce has been indicating all along that Peyton is dying, and yet, the reader's hope has sustained him with the belief that Peyton just might free himself. 

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