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

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literaturenerd's profile pic

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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gmuss25's profile pic

gmuss25 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As was mentioned in the previous post, Peyton Farquhar stands in the middle of the Owl Creek Bridge and awaits his death by hanging throughout the short story. Moments before he is hanged, Peyton begins to think about his family, and his senses begin to heighten. Suddenly, the sound of a "metallic percussion," similar to the stroke of an anvil, distracts him from his thoughts. Initially, Peyton does not understand what is making the noise, and the sound gradually grows. The narrator compares the sound to the toll of a death knell and mentions that it hurts Peyton's ears like the thrust from a knife. The sound that Peyton hears is actually the ticking of his watch. The ticking of the watch illustrates the passing of time and represents Peyton's impending death. Peyton's acute sense of hearing and preoccupation with the sound of his watch reveal his anxiety and fear. Peyton is gradually running out of time, which is why the ticking of his watch sounds so loud to him. In reality, nobody but Peyton can hear the ticking. Peyton's acute senses amplify the sound of his watch, which depicts his awareness that time is running out before he dies. 

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