What is the significance of the word "occurrence" in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"?  

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The use of the word "occurrence" in the title of this excellent story is one of the brilliant touches that makes this work of fiction such a classic. We must remember that often what draws people to read a given work of fiction is the title of it and how it can engage our interest and lead us to read on. If we consider the title of this great short story, the word "occurrence" serves the purpose of indicating tha the story will talk about something that will happen at Owl Creek Bridge and nowhere else. The word "occurrence" is rather vague in the way that it does not give any clear indication about what the event that will be the focus of the story is. It serves to indicate that what will happen is too mysterious and indefineable to be described in more concrete and precise terms. This of course serves to make us extremely curious as to what the precise nature of this "occurrence" is, drawing us into the story and engaging us in Peyton Farquhar's flight of fantasy as he imagines an escape before his death.

Given the focus of the story on the psychological response of a man to his imminent death, we could argue that such a vague word excellently captures the ambigous, psychological nature of the story, for how can a man's final thoughts and mental reactions to death be captured in title? The use of the word "occurrence" therefore emphasises this theme of the story.

ajacks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to the Free Dictionary.com, “occurrence” simply means “something that takes place.” However, in a list of synonyms for the word,  it says, “a happening of no great importance.” When the reader first sees the title he/she will agree that it is a hanging taking place, but as the story unfolds we see that it is much more, and it is of great importance to Peyton Farquhar, the man about to be hanged.

The author goes into detail about how Farquhar manages to escape from his execution, and the reader is drawn in, hoping as much as he does that he can make it to safety.  This is exactly what Ambrose Bierce wants to happen, and as the reader reaches the surprise ending we see that Bierce picked the perfect word in using “occurrence” in the title, for what is happening is simply “something that took place,” a hanging. The author put you in the mind of the condemned man, only to show you that it didn’t really matter to the outcome of the execution.


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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

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