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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What motivates and frightens the protagonist in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"?

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Peyton Fahrquhar is a staunch supporter of the Confederacy during the Civil War and is devoted to the South's cause, which is why he attempts to burn down the Owl Creek Bridge after receiving information about it from a Union spy. Since Peyton is a wealthy slaveowner, he did not enlist as a soldier, but felt that no service was too humble for him to complete in order to aid the Confederacy. Peyton Fahrquhar knows that destroying the Owl Creek Bridge would significantly halt the Union's advance and learns that the Union Army has issued an order that any civilian caught interfering with the railroad or bridges will be hanged.

He also knows that there is a significant amount of dry wood near the bridge that would instantly go up in flames if ignited. As a Southern sympathizer, Peyton attempts to set the bridge on fire and aid the Confederacy's cause by temporarily stopping the Union’s advance. As a slave owner, Peyton believes that the North is diametrically opposed to his way of life and he desires to preserve the South. Peyton does not know that he was speaking to a Union spy, and his fantasies while standing with a noose around his neck reveal that he fears death.

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