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

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge book cover
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How Does Farquhar Die

How did Peyton Farquhar die in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge?"

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The storyteller intentionally creates the illusion that Peyton Farquhar escapes being hanged at Owl Creek Bridge because the rope snaps and he is falling towards the rushing waters of Owl Creek. In Part III of the story we are held in Farquhar's consciousness. He manages to free his hands and avoid all the bullets being fired at him by the Union soldiers. They are also firing at him with cannon balls and grapeshot. But he escapes out of range and walks for many miles until he reaches his plantation.

He stands at the gate of his own home....He must have traveled the entire night. As he pushes open the gate and passes up the wide white walk, he sees a flutter of female garments; his wife, looking fresh and cool and sweet, steps down from the veranda to meet him. 

He is safe. He is home. He rushes forward to clasp his wife in his arms. But it has all been an hallucination. Everything he thought was happening since he dropped from the bridge with a noose around his neck only occurred during the few seconds it took until the slack in the rope was all played out. The rope did not break as he imagined.

...he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like the shock of a cannon--then all is darkness and silence!

Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge.

Almost a full twenty-four hours seem to have passed in Peyton Farquhar's consciousness during the few seconds it took for him to drop from the bridge and the noose to break his neck. The text in Part I states that the water in the creek was:

...touched to gold by the early sun

And near the end of Part III, Farquhar is imagining that he is just arriving at his home.

All is as he left it, and all bright and beautiful in the morning sunshine. He must have traveled the entire night. 

Time in Ambrose Bierce's story is relative. This is the most striking thing about the story. Peyton Farquhar lives through a whole long adventure in only a few seconds. Is this really possible? It would seem so, because the reader has lived through that whole long adventure with him.

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