Explain the ending of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."
At the end of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," we realize that the escape was just a fantasy and that Peyton Farquhar has died by hanging.
The ending of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is stunning for its sudden brutality. Just as we think that the protagonist, Peyton Farquhar, is about to succeed in his amazing escape, we learn that none of it actually happened. He never fell through the bridge into the water. He never ran all day and all night to arrive at his home. All this occurred in a matter of seconds in his own imagination. Peyton Farquhar died by hanging just as his executioners intended. In the moments before he died, Peyton Farquhar thought or fantasized that he was escaping. His last thoughts before his neck broke were of successfully returning home.
This is a real twist ending. It forces the reader to examine what is reality and what is imagined. In this way, Ambrose Bierce asks the reader to examine how well reality and fantasy can be told apart. To achieve the effect, Bierce plays with the passage of time and the use of language. Upon first reading the story, we may not notice how he slows time down and speeds it up. This makes the sudden realization that the long escape never happened all the more shocking. However, reading through the final section of the story, we can see clues that nothing is as it appears. Uses of language to describe things, such as "seemed" and "appeared" are employed throughout the escape fantasy.
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