Discuss the themes of death, war and the value of life in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

1 Answer | Add Yours

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

These three elements can be helpfully combined to focus on the way that life is viewed against a backdrop of war. Putting aside the major theme of Peyton Farquhar's flight of fantasy that allows him to "escape" from his hanging in his mind, the text presents human life as being infinitely expendable. The way in which the text begins, and the bussiness-like nature of the soldiers as they prepare Peyton Farquhar for hanging, seems to suggest that what they are doing is viewed as being just another part of their job. The Civil War which forms the backdrop of this narrative has the result of lessening the value of human life, so that men are hung as a matter of course and it is not considered strange or wrong. Note the way in which the soldiers are described:

Excepting the group of four at the centre of the bridge, not a man moved. 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 captain stood with folded arms, silent, observing the work of his subordinate, but mking 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.

Death, therefore, is a common feature of war, and is inextricably intertwined with the cheapness of human life that comes in times of war. The death of Peyton Farquhar, in this respect, is nothing special, just another "casualty of war" that occurs in order to try and secure victory.

We’ve answered 318,994 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question