In "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," what are the main events?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is not structured in a traditional manner with the events occurring in chronological order. The story is divided into three parts, with Part II being a flashback; the events in Part II occurred before those in Parts I and III. Arranging the events in the order they occurred, then, becomes the reader's responsibility. Bierce further complicates the structure of the story by including those events that happened in real time and those that happened only in Peyton's mind.

That said, here are the events that make up the plot of the story.

1. At his home, Peyton speaks to a Union spy, believing that the soldier is a member of the Confederate army. From this conversation, Peyton gains information about the location of the Union forces  and the condition of the Owl Creek Bridge. The spy implies that burning the bridge would be an easy task.

2. Peyton attempts to burn the bridge and is captured. (This event is not detailed in the story; it is implied because Peyton is about to be hanged in the story by Northern soldiers at the bridge.)

3. Peyton is hanged from the bridge, his execution being carried out in a formal military manner.

4. During his execution, Peyton's mind protects him from the horror of his impending death. He imagines hitting the water, freeing his hands, dodging bullets, and making his escape to return to his home. Peyton's reverie ends with his wife reaching out for him--just as he hits the end of the rope, breaking his neck. These are events in the story, but they happen only in Peyton's mind.

The events in the story that actually occur in reality are minimal: Peyton talks to the wrong soldier and is hanged from Owl Creek bridge.

epollock | Student


Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" This story is of great interest because of Bierce’s attempt to contrast the real passage of time with our human perception of time. It is centered in the consciousness of the central character, Farquhar, except for the dramatically rendered section beginning with paragraph 8.

Additionally, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is a fine suspense story, because as the narrator moves into Farquhar’s mind the reader is led to believe, at least temporarily, in the details of the escape. The story is therefore a virtuoso piece in the use of point of view.

The story takes place in northern Alabama during the Civil War. Union forces are in control and martial law prevails. There are no civil rights, and no trials beyond those of a military court.

From Section II, we infer that Farquhar, almost literally the only character, was lured or even entrapped into an attempt to blow up Owl Creek Bridge. We assume that he had tried to overcome the guard and then had been arrested, summarily tried, and condemned to death by hanging from the bridge which he had tried to destroy. 

In paragraph 5 our attention is shifted when Farquhar closes his eyes, thereby shutting off the outside world of his perceptions and opening up the inner world of his imagination. Our interest is thus pointed toward those things that he thinks he sees and experiences. First we learn of the apparent slowing of his watch, followed by his dream or belief that he is actually escaping. (This same perception persists once he is actually being hanged.)

In paragraph 37 the narration becomes abruptly and cruelly dramatic. There is no more probing into Farquhar’s mind because he is dead.

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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

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