"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is a story of romanticism versus realism and as such is characteristic of Ambrose Bierce's cynical outlook on life in general. Peyton Farquhar is a Southern romantic. He has dreamt of doing something heroic for the Southern cause. He comes up against the reality of war and the reality of life. He falls for the lies of the Federal scout because he wants to believe he is being given an opportunity to do something heroic and noble. He loses his wife, his plantation, his children, and his life in attempting to sabotage a tiny bridge in the middle of nowhere. Bierce titles his story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" in order to suggest that this is nothing but an insignificant "occurrence" in a place nobody has ever heard of, not a romantic adventure with a heroic outcome. The reader is completely fooled into sharing the protagonist's delusion that he has miraculously survived the hanging and is making his way back to his loving wife and his beautiful home. Farquhar has dreams of glory and vivid fantasies about escaping from his terrible predicament, but in the end there is no escape from an ignominious death.
Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge.