Analyzing “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”In his short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Ambrose Bierce and his narrator don’t focus on death as much as life. Rather than focusing on what a dark subject this short story could actually be, Bierce takes us down another path to the happy ending that we all hope for in every story.
To fully understand “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” it helps to analyze the elements of the theme, setting, and symbolism. The theme of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is that there is a very thin line between life and death. When Farquhar is hung on the bridge, in the seconds, or minutes, that he finally dies, he is able to “live” his happy ending by returning to his home and wife. Death will ultimately come for all of us; however, how you “live” your last moments are entirely up to you. The setting of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is centered on the Owl Creek Bridge in northern Alabama during the Civil War, the summer of 1862.During the Civil War it wasn’t uncommon for soldiers to dress in the other side’s uniform to gather information or lead others astray, which is what happens in the second part of this story when the Confederate soldier rides up wearing a Union uniform and asks for a drink of water.
While Mrs. Farquhar is gone to get water for the soldier, he begins to tell the story about Owl Creek Bridge being repaired and the Yanks were “getting ready for another advance.” Knowing this information is what sends Farquhar to the Owl Creek Bridge where he is ultimately hung. The symbolism of water and time in this short story is very strong. Water, which symbolizes freedom, plays a significant part of the story. Farquhar imagines how he can escape his captors by jumping into the moving water, which will carry him to his freedom and to his happy ending; however, in the end his fantasy of freedom was just that, a fantasy.
Although time is not on Farquhar’s side, it does seem to stand still for him at the end to allow him to “escape” his captors and make it back to his wife and home. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was written and published by Ambrose Bierce in 1890; however, he certainly knows how to write a twist ending not unlike the likes of Poe or King. The theme is clear and should give each of us hope when the end does come to find us. Since death does ultimately come for all of us, how we “live” our last moments are entirely up to each of us.