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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by Ambrose Bierce

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What does An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge illustrate about humans?

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Peyton Farquhar is a man who makes impulsive decisions that affect not only his own life but also the lives of his family and others. Although he is perfectly aware of the consequences that may arise from such hasty actions, he cannot control himself and carries out the bold plan to blow up the Owl Creek Bridge with him on it. Farquhar has no choice but to go through with this plan because he knows that either way he will be captured by the Union Army. He can choose to be shot down in cold blood or blown up while carrying out a mission to help the South.

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In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge the author illustrates the ability that human beings possess to make decisions based on a desire for recognition and glory.  Peyton Fraquhar volunteers to blow up the Owl Creek Bridge in an effort to help the South and to distinguish himself, draw attention to himself.  He is not a soldier and he longs to contribute to the cause, so he falls into the trap set by the Union Scout.  But he is also well aware that anyone caught conspiring to blow up the bridge will be executed.

His decision and choices reflect foolish pride.  He does not consider his family, his wife and children when he decides to blow up the bridge.  It is only after the fact, when he is caught that we are made aware of how sorry he is for what he did.

The story also illustrates the human behavior of regret.  Peyton Farquhar is a man filled with anguish and regret at his rash decision to try to distinguish himself in the Southern cause.  His only thoughts as he is about to be hung are for his family.  He is stricken with remorse and sadness at what he has  lost.

I think that the story teaches the reader about the consequences of spontaneous decisions driven by emotions that need to be contained.  It is Farquhar's pride, his desire for recognition, his ego, that causes him to make such as fatal decision.  

"Because he dies at the end of the story, Farquhar is sometimes considered a sympathetic and brave character, but many have found him to be callous, foolhardy, and obsessed with honor." 

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