What is the central conflict in the story "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge"?
The setting of this story is the American Civil War, and the conflict is an internal one. Peyton Farquhar had dreamed of glory as a Confederate soldier, but in his role as Southern plantation owner, could only hope to contribute to the cause in a less formal setting. Thus when a Confederate soldier comes calling and mentions how easily the nearby Owl Creek Bridge might burn, which would thus stop the advancing Union Artmy, Farquhar takes action, is caught, and sentenced to hang at that very bridge. Bierce deliberately misleads the reader into thinking Farquhar has escaped; as he prepares to die, Farquhar senses are heightened, and he imagines/hallucinates an elaborate and miraculous escape and return to his family. Thus we see his internal conflict; while he wanted glory, and tried to attain it by sabotaging the enemy, when it came time to die for his efforts, he really hoped to escape. Bierce also explores the issue of time, and human perception of it, as he structures Farquhar's thoughts of escape. These thought take up a great portion of the story, and are so detailed as to seem like this miracle did actually occur--however, when the story reveals its surprise ending, it becomes apparent that this elaborate stream-of-consciousness had to have taken place in the span of just a few seconds.
In a story of this type, it might be said that the central conflict is the war between the North and the South during the American Civil War. Bierce seems to be intentionally making his story seem like only one trivial incident, or occurrence, out of innumerable others which killed hundreds of thousands of men on both sides. His choice of a setting--a little bridge that nobody ever heard of--seems indicative of his intention to make this incident, so important to one man, seem insignificant in the great scheme of things. The title of the story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," is dispassionate. It sounds like a minor item buried in the back pages of a newspaper, or a brief report from a military officer to a senior. The great conflict between the Union and the Confederacy led to countless thousands of such "occurrences."