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

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by Ambrose Bierce
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Is "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" a psychological case study and therefore not true fiction, or does the story use psychology?

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Bierce did not write a case study of the workings of Peyton Farquhar's mind. He wrote a compelling story with a dramatic and largely unexpected conclusion. In dealing with the psychological aspects of Peyton's facing his own death, Bierce developed Peyton's character, drew us into his experience, and very effectively...

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Bierce did not write a case study of the workings of Peyton Farquhar's mind. He wrote a compelling story with a dramatic and largely unexpected conclusion. In dealing with the psychological aspects of Peyton's facing his own death, Bierce developed Peyton's character, drew us into his experience, and very effectively structured his story so that its conclusion is especially powerful--and realistic.

Bierce's focus is not upon the psychological workings of the human mind, in general, or in Peyton's specific case. In its full context, the story focuses upon the death of one man during war, thus showing the nature of war itself. The title is ironic and points to Bierce's theme. In the wider context of the war, Peyton's hanging at Owl Creek Bridge is only "an occurrence." War is a force that overwhelms individuals and negates the value of individual human lives. To the Union soldiers who execute Peyton, he is just another casualty of war, and hanging him is another of the jobs they are expected to perform. By taking us inside Peyton's mind, however, Bierce makes him a husband and a father who loves his family and tried to protect his home. This was Bierce's intent: to humanize Peyton, to make his death meaningful and sad, and to show the nature of the force that destroyed him.

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