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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Student Question

In "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," why is Farquhar's death on a bridge significant?

Expert Answers

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The fact that Farquhar is hanged on a bridgeintensifies the irony and symbolism of the entire story. We are told that Farquhar is a Southern plantation owner who somehow was rejected for service by the Confederate army. He has a very romantic sense of war and has not experienced its cruel reality before he tries to blow up the Owl Creek Bridge. In another irony, we are told that he was tricked by a Federal spy into trying to destroy the bridge. He was caught and loses his life for his crime. Bridges are generally symbols for bringing things or people together. The Civil War, the setting for the story, was fought to bring the nation together after Southern States tried to secede from the Union. However, in this story, the two sides are obviously attempting to destroy one another. Peyton tried to destroy the bridge and the Federal troops are now seeking his destruction. It is both ironic and symbolic that this mutual focus on destruction should occur on a bridge, perhaps a metaphor for the Civil War. The Southern states, as represented by Peyton, tried to destroy the bridge or connection between the states and the Federal troops, in turn, almost destroyed the South in its attempts to save the Union.

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