An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Summary

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce

The short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce is divided up into three sections. It takes place in the South during the time of slavery with a man waiting to be hanged over a stream. His hands are tied behind his back, and there's a noose around his neck. Men guard either side of the scaffold on which he stands with a sergeant and captain waiting to step aside to allow the plank to tip and the man to descend. His face was not covered, so the man looked into the river wishing he could dive in and swim home to his wife and children.

In the second part it is revealed that Peyton Farquhar is the man waiting to be hanged. This section, however, flashes back to when he was home with his wife. A planter, he had been sitting in their yard when a soldier came by and asked for some water. While his wife got the water, Farquhar had a conversation with the soldier about how the Yankees are advancing on the south. They issued an order that anyone who interferes with their attempts to fix the railroad and bridges along their path will be hanged. This soldier was actually a Union spy.

Part three begins with Farquhar being hanged. He starts to lose consciousness as he experiences great pain throughout his body. Suddenly, he hears a splash, and everything becomes cold. He realizes the rope broke, and he fell into the water. Through no real conscious effort, he frees his hands from the rope, takes off the noose, and swims for the surface. As he looked behind him, he saw all the soldiers pointing in his direction. Then a gunshot flew past his head. He swam quickly, but he was passing a group of soldiers who also took aim at him. A few bullets grazed him, and one lodged between his collar and neck, so he plucked it out. He continued to swim when a cannon ball was fired causing a great swell in the water. He whirled around and landed on the bank of the river hidden by the brush; he was ecstatic. He lay there happily until a grapeshot of smaller cannon balls exploded above him, motivating him to stand up and run into the forest. He ran all night until exhausted and barely able to see, he arrives at his own home. He sees his wife come down the steps with a smile despite his grotesque appearance. His arms extend toward her when he feels a blow to the back of his neck, and all turns to darkness. Farquhar was dead from a broken neck swinging above the Owl Creek bridge. In other words, everything beyond the hanging was just a dream.

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