silhouette of a man half submerged in water wiht a noose around his neck

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by Ambrose Bierce

Start Free Trial

How does the use of realism allow you to make jumps in logic in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"?

The use of realism in Ambrose Bierce's short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," excuses the reader from recognizing that the narrator's perception of time has become distorted and that Peyton Farquhar's actions are illogical.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Realism in literature is an attempt to present a story without the use of romanticism or idealization.  Basically, the story was to be told as it would have really taken place, or without objectivity.  In Ambrose Bierce's short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," the narrator seems to be telling the story factually until the reader reaches the ending.

In "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," the reader does not realize that the narrator's perception of time has become very distorted.  Part of the reason for the this is the narrator's point of view, which begins as objective, but moves moves to third-person limited; also, the use of stream-of-consciousness is very effective in keeping the reader uninformed as to the reality of what is happening to Peyton Farquhar.

Because the reader believes that the events of the story are being relayed reliably and factually, the reader excuses illogical or improbable occurrences, such as Farquhar's avoiding not only hanging, but also drowning and being under direct gunfire from a trained marksman and an attack by cannon.  Bierce utilizes literary techniques so cleverly that reader is truly surprised to find that the events of the story took place during Farquhar's actual hanging.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I suppose your question is refering to the way in which this brilliant short story chooses to depict the flight of fantasy of Peyton Farquhar's last few moments. The narrative style of this short story is key to this approach, and certainly the story begins with a very detached narrative style, almost like a film, that deliberately presents what is seen in the most realistic way possible. Consider for example the realistic way in which the scene is described from a very objective standpoint at the beginning of the story:

A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, lookign down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head, and the slack fell to the level of his knees. Some loose boards laid upon the sleepers supporting the metals of teh railway supplied a footing for him and his executioners--two private soldiers of the Federal army, directed by a sergeant who in civil life may have been a deputy sherriff.

Realism is something that is attained through the objective and precise description of the scene we are given of this man who is just about to be hung. I suppose your question refers to the way that such realism makes us logically trust the narrative account that we are being given, so when Peyton Farquhar manages to escape miraculously, we implicitly believe this account because of the realism of the narrative. It is only towards the end of the story when the description turns more and more eerie that we come to doubt the truthfulness of the narrative.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on