In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” the main character Peyton Farquhar is condemned for death, standing with noose around his neck waiting to be dropped off a bridge to a brutal death by a group of Union soldiers that had obviously captured him. The story flashes back to the events prior to his execution, as well as moving forward from his execution to his seemingly real escape. In the end, it is revealed that his escape was a figment of his imagination before he died.
When the story flashes back to the events leading up to his execution, it is revealed that Farquhar is a southern man who is strongly behind the cause of the South. He longs for the glory of war, and even though he isn’t a soldier he does everything he can to support the Confederate army. One day, a soldier comes to ask for water. As his wife quickly goes to fetch some, Farquhar probes the soldier about the current situation on the front. He is told that the Union army has advanced to Owl Creek Bridge, and that there is only one small post and a single sentinel guarding it.
He asks if there is anything he can do to sabotage the Union’s operation, and the soldier hints that there are large amounts of dry, flammable driftwood on the shore of the river. As the soldier walks away, it is revealed that he is really a Union scout. This deception sets up the rest of the story, as it brings the reader back to the bridge where he has been captured for his attempts to burn it. This sets the tone for the rest of the story because in the end, the whole story is a deception that leads the reader to believe that Farquhar has miraculously escaped his death.
While the initial deception of Farquhar foreshadows the deception to the reader at the end of the story, there are many hints throughout the story that allow the reader to predict the ending. For one, Farquhar receives a miraculous stroke of luck when after being thrown off the bridge and hanging for awhile, the rope snaps and drops him into the water. This is completely unrealistic, as the force of his body falling and then abruptly stopping would be more than enough to snap his neck and kill him instantaneously.
Another hinting towards the end of the story occurs when he is swimming away from the bridge while being shot at by the soldiers on top. He turns to look at one of the marksmen; suddenly his senses become superhuman and he is able to see through the scope of the marksman so close that he is able to distinguish the color of his eyes. The next hint towards the end of the story comes when he is underwater observing bullets which defied the laws of physics and stopped as they hit the water. As the bullets are floating slowly downward all around him, one becomes lodged in his neck. Some of them touched him on the face and hands, then fell away… one lodged between his collar and neck; it was uncomfortably warm and he snatched it out. ” (Bierce 3) The significance of this quote foreshadows the ending because not only is it unrealistic, which hints at the fact that the events that occur are fiction, but the lodging of the bullet in his neck foreshadows the end of the story when he is hung. The fact that the bullet is warm also shows that he may be dreaming or lost in his imagination, but still able to feel the noose around his neck.