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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

Ambrose Bierce weaves a tale of intrigue and captivation, by using shifts of voice and time in the story aAn Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridgea. In the first four paragraphs, Bierce begins the story using third person, and in this point of view, he creates reality. We can view the situation and all aspects while it is written in third person; we know precisely what is going on, we know it is real. Near the end of the fourth paragraph, the author shifts cleverly from third person to limited omniscient.

After having us view the story in third person, Bierce transfers from reality, to the main characters’ thought processes, having us view Peyton’s thoughts and dreams also as reality. “He looked a moment at his “unsteadfast footing,” then let his gaze wander to the swirling water of the stream racing madly beneath his feet.” (P.67) it is here where Bierce shifts and starts to mislead us, by using Peyton Farquhar’s thought processes as a filter. It is a clever shift, because in this moment, we are getting closer to the time of Farquhar’s death, and we have previously read reality.

Time then slows down; the explanation of the phenomenon, of Peyton Farquhars’s death, is both detailed and plausible, and there is a special trick: “He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children”(P.67) It is in this sentence that Ambrose Bierce starts to evoke hope in the reader. The author knows that the majority of people view death as morbid; the majority believes that there is often an alternative to death; we often want to think that the result will be a “fairy-tale ending”. Then after evoking hope, the sergeant steps aside, and Peyton plunges to his death, but the author moves back in time, taking the focus away from Peyton’s death. After the brief description of the past Bierce a transfer back to the future and continues to describe Peyton’s “escape”. He has taken our mind off of death for long enough.

Bierce does not shift voices again until the last paragraph of the story; meanwhile he weaves the “fairy tale” through Farquhar’s thoughts. We get caught up in all the drama of Peyton’s “escape” that we don’t tend to notice the aphorisms that have been worked into the text. There are many clever references to light, to cold and darkness, heightened sensitivity; various elements that suggest an after death experience and the quite natural sensations of a body dangling by a broken neck. In general, the situation is rather unrealistic; it is rather dream-like. We as the reader do not recognize these neat aphorisms or that the story is only fantasy, until we read the last paragraph.

The blind is then drawn from our eyes, as Bierce shifts voices once more and change back to third person, to reality. We are shocked and left with a sense of bewilderment as the last sentence is revealed: “Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of Owl Creek Bridge.”(P.72) It is here that we realize we have been cleverly mislead; strung along by hope and fantasy, only to come to the realization that Peyton did not live “happily ever after”. Ambrose Bierce knits a story of fascination and deception by something as simple as shifts in point of view.

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