An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Questions and Answers
by Ambrose Bierce

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge book cover
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Does the author seem to ignore the existence of human beings in bondage in Alabama during the war from 1861–1865?

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While the story does not take enslaved persons as its subject, it seems to me to be a mistake to suggest that Bierce ignores the existence of these individuals. Early in the second part of the story, the narrator says of the protagonist, Peyton Farquhar, "Being a slave owner and like other slave owners a politician, he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause." Thus, Bierce acknowledges the existence of human beings in bondage in Alabama at this time, but his purpose—in this text—has little to do with them or their stories. Rather, he seems to be attempting to humanize Farquhar himself, something which could be viewed as problematic given Farquhar's position as a well-to-do owner of a plantation and one who keeps others enslaved.

After the Civil War, many would and still do demonize Confederates and people who believed, as Farquhar evidently does, that slavery was right and good. Bierce, it seems, is challenging the notion that individuals like this were monsters, as the narrator describes Farquhar's "kindly expression" and how he "closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children." Bierce works hard to get the reader to see Farquhar as a human being rather than a person who enslaves others (though he is both) so that we begin to sympathize with him and are all the more shocked by the story's abrupt ending. The point of the story, so to speak, is not the evils of slavery but, rather, the evils of war and how easily we tend to demonize others without thinking of them as individuals with families and feelings.

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