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

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge book cover
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What is Farquhar's motivation? Why did he do what he did?

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Farquhar's actions are motivated by loyalty to the Old South. It sounds like Farquhar did not join the army because he is not great at taking orders—he's described as "imperious"—but he feels

No service was too humble for him to perform in the aid of the South, no adventure too perilous for him to undertake if consistent with the character of a civilian who was at heart a soldier, and who in good faith and without too much qualification assented to at least a part of the frankly villainous dictum that all is fair in love and war.

In other words, he evidently believes that all is fair in war, at least. In the second part, we learn that, one day in the recent past, a "gray-clad soldier" approached Farquhar's home and told Farquhar that the Union commandant had issued an order than anyone who attempted to interfere with the railroad would be hanged; this is an indication of just how important the railroads must be to the Northern war effort. Farquhar asks what one might be able to accomplish if he were able to overpower the sentinel guarding the railroad bridge, and the soldier tells him about a "'great quantity of driftwood'" that has pushed up against the bridge on one side; it would catch fire quickly. At the end of this section, the soldier is revealed—to the reader—to be a "Federal scout." He was only dressed as a Confederate soldier, but he is actually a Union soldier. Therefore, we can assume that Farquhar tried to carry out this plan and that the Union army was waiting for him, knowing what he would attempt because of the scout. Thus, Farquhar seems to have acted out of a desire to disrupt the Union army's success in the South and thereby help the South to win.

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Derick Forte eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Because he was an "original secessionist," which means he sided with the South at the beginning of the conflict between North and South during the Civil War, he is also described as "ardently devoted to the Southern cause," meaning he is passionate about all things Southern.  However, the story vaguely says that he cannot serve in the war as a soldier ("Circumstances of an imperious nature, which it is unnecessary to relate here, had prevented him from taking service with the gallant army..."). But, Farquhar "did what he could. No service was too humble for him."  Thus, when a man dressed as a Confederate soldier tells Farquhar about the advance of the Union army to the Owl Creek Bridge, and how there is plenty of kindling under the bridge that could be lit and burn down the bridge, Farquhar jumps at the chance to help the Southern cause in any way he can.  

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