How does Ambrose Bierce use time and stream-of-consciousness to create an unusual ending in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge?

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lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bierce's short story received rave, and not-so-rave reviews for its unusual approach, which leads the reader to believe there will be a "happy ending" in a story where it will turn out the protagonist has been dead for most of it.  A Confederate planter/sympathizer is lulled into thinking he is speaking to a Confederate when a soldier in gray comes by his home one evening and they discuss the nearby troop movements, and winds up getting himself hanged for treason.  The story opens with the planter, Payton Farquhar, about to be hanged (Part 1) and the story of what led him to that point is told in flashback (Part 2).  When the narrator returns to the present, with Farquahar awaiting his fate, it appears that Farquhar frees himself and makes a heroic escape, returning home to his wife in Part 3.  Bierce articulates the details of the escape with great imagery as he drags the reader breathlessly through paragraph after suspenseful paragraph of the unlikely adventure, and for this reader at least, it seemed that  Farquhar managed to pull it off, until the final line of the story:  "Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of Owl Creek Bridge."

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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

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