What is Bierce's likely interpretation of the death experience?What is Bierce's likely interpretation of the death experience?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think the focus of this story is how, in those precious seconds before we die, our consciousness and mind plays tricks on us to such an extent that we can deceive ourselves so convincingly. Farquhar's "escape" takes hours, but in reality it is played out against the backdrop of a couple of minutes before Farquhar is hung. Bierce therefore is playing with the way that death experiences affect our understanding, consciousness and perception.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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What is Bierce's likely interpretation of the death experience?

What is Bierce's likely interpretation of the death experience?

What I find intriguing about Bierce's depiction of Peyton's death experience is the treatment of time. At the end of Part I, the sergeant steps off the plank. At this point, Peyton would have fallen through the bridge's crossties until he hit the end of the rope, breaking his neck. This would have taken only seconds, yet it is enough time for Peyton to create his elaborate fantasy just before he feels the pain in his neck when it breaks. Bierce was writing for dramatic and literary effect, of course, but his treatment of time suggests how quickly thoughts and feelings can move through our minds and serve to protect us from knowledge that is unbearably painful. What Peyton experiences as he dies emphasizes the mysteries of the human mind.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Since time does not exist but in the mind, all that "happens" to Peyton Faquhar may transpire in the mere ticking of his watch that he becomes conscious of near the end of Part I. Man is alone, even in his death. 

Much like the suspension of time right before a person feels the impact of a car collision, Faquhar's thoughts may swirl through his consciousness as he dies.  However, by the fact that Bierce writes of dying of hanging above a river--"the idea seemed to him [Faquhar] ludicrous"--the author conveys the unsympathetic role of Nature in one's death.

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kwoo1213 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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This is a good discussion board question due to the fact that we can only speculate about this question.

Bierce's description of what Farquahar's thoughts are as he is preparing to die are fascinating.  Farquahar's "dream" sequence leads many readers to believe that he has been able to escape the hangman's noose, but these readers learn that he, in fact, did not escape and he dies at the hands of the Union soldiers.

I believe that Bierce's description of Farquahar's thoughts before he dies might be representative of anyone's thoughts as he or she is preparing to die.  One would most likely wish that he or she could be with his or her loved ones.  One also might relive his or her life through memories and replay important moments in his or her life.  One might also dream up a scenario in which they are not really dying...it could be the mind playing tricks on him or her, as well.  Imagine how terrifying it would be to know that one is going to die momentarily.  That is a sobering thought, isn't it?

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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If Peyton Farquhar's experience is any indication of Bierce's views on death, then one would expect him to believe that just before death we experience a sense of freedom and joy. We also feel a sense of escape from the realities of this world. As far as what happens after death, Bierce leaves few clues in "An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge." He simply notes that Farquhar was dead. Whether he made it to a heavenly home after death is unclear.

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