Did the ending of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce surprise you?

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It has been a long time since I first read the story, but I think it did more than surprise me. That is putting it mildly! I naturally identified with Peyton Farquhar. I shared his feeling of hope and possible salvation when he imagined that the hanging-rope had broken and he was being carried away from the Owl Creek Bridge by the cold, rushing water. I shared his relief when he seemed to have made it safely to the shore and was running for his life. I shared his growing feelings of confidence as he made it farther and farther away from that awful bridge and closer and closer to his home and beautiful wife.

And then when the slack in the hanging-rope ran out and his neck was broken--I felt that "stunning blow upon the back of the neck" and saw that "blinding white light...with a sound like the shock of a cannon," which Ambrose intended his readers to feel, see, and hear, and which is what every hanged person must feel, see, and hear when they fall as far as the slack in the rope will permit.

In reading the story over again, I can only experience those sensations faintly. I guess they can only hang you once.

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The first time that I read this story, yes, the ending surprised me quite a bit.  The ending of the story usually surprises most of the students that I teach this story to as well.  In fact, most of my students are more than surprised.  Most often I find that students are a bit angered by the ending of the story.  The reason for that is because Peyton Farquhar's "escape" seems so real.  It has detail on top of detail.  For example, the sequence in which Peyton is trying to swim to the surface is so clearly explained that most readers assume that it must really be happening to Peyton.  

They beat the water vigorously with quick, downward strokes, forcing him to the surface. He felt his head emerge; his eyes were blinded by the sunlight; his chest expanded convulsively, and with a supreme and crowning agony his lungs engulfed a great draught of air, which instantly he expelled in a shriek!

Perhaps another reason that the ending surprises most readers is because people have been conditioned to anticipate happy endings.  I can think of books or movies that I have seen that end sadly, but I have to think hard about it.  Additionally, that list of sad ending stories is much smaller than the list of happy ending stories that I could give.  "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" strings readers along and gives them false hope that the protagonist is going to survive.  We assume he will live.  After all, most stories of survival end with the main character surviving.  That definitely doesn't happen to Peyton, which comes as quite a shock.  

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