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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What is the climax of the story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"?

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The non-traditional layout of Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Occurrence at Owl Bridge" definitely makes it more difficult to identify all of the plot structure elements.  The climax is particularly difficult to discern because of the way Bierce has structured the story; the beginning of the climax occurs as Farquhar stands on the edge of the bridge on a plank, convinced that he will die:

"His plank had been held in place by the weight of the captain; it was now held by that of the sergeant. At a signal from the former the latter would step aside, the plank would tilt and the condemned man go down between two ties" (I).

Right at the end of Section I, the officer does step to the side, leaving the reader to imagine that Farquhar has plunged to his death, but instead of following though with the chronological action, the author gives the reader a flashback to previous events, revealing how Farquhar was set up by a Union spy.  The climax in this story is that moment in which the reader wonders--does Farquhad die in the hanging, or does he escape and return to his family?  Bierce suspends the moment by providing Farquhar's imaginings to the reader, by giving them the following action of the rope breaking and Peyton's difficult escape.

In the end, Bierce returns to the original premise of his climax--does Farquhar live or die?  He finally addresses the outcome in the resolution of the story, just as Peyton returns home to his wife:

"As he is about to clasp her 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" (III).

The climax of the story is the true turning point of the action; in this case, even though Bierce suspends the action throughout the story, the true climax is the moment of Farquhar's hanging and free fall.

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