Book Review: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Ambrose Bierce).

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is a short story written by Ambrose Bierce. This story has been on my reading list for a while. So, I am glad to tick it off. The story is set during the American civil war in Alabama. A man Peyton Farquhar is standing on the Owl Creek Bridge with his hands tied behind his back. He is about to be executed by the Union army soldiers.

The premise of the story is simple enough yet, difficult to summarize without giving away the plot. Peyton Farquhar is a civilian, a planter, and a slave owner. Not much detail about his actual involvement is described, but he does support the Confederate cause. He is about to be executed for his role as a soldier, from the Owl Creek Bridge which is just miles away from his home. It also hints at the loss of lives during conflicts which are an inevitability of war, despite the deeds of the people involved. There is no clear standing about Farquhar’s ideals, moralistically I mean, but I think it is left ambiguous on purpose. He is the only character in the story to have a name.

One of the main themes of the story is the thin line between life and death. Farquhar starts to imagine his wife, his kids, and his home during the minutes leading up to the execution. He becomes aware of every moment, every aspect around him. It makes him appreciate and take notice of the little things that we take for granted every day. The threat of impending death in a way makes him want to live more. Ambrose Bierce, himself, served in the war and even suffered severe injuries during his time in the army. I think the way this theme plays into the story seems so raw because it is possibly based on some of the author’s real experiences.

The other theme that was a bit of a twist to the story is reality and illusion. For a man that’s about to die, the lines between reality and illusion start blurring. Even as a reader, the way the story is written, I couldn’t tell the difference between, what was actually happening in the present and what wasn’t. The second part of the story is intense, detailed, and almost seems surreal because of the descriptive and detailed account. This makes the reader and the character question what’s real? For Farquhar, the time seems to start slowing as he inches close to his death, and the ending is unexpected.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is the first story I have read by Ambrose Bierce. I liked the way the story flowed, and the descriptions are so realistic. Like I said before, there is a bit of a twist at the end, and it is not how I pictured the story going, but it does fit. Overall, I think it’s a great short story.

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Author: Aarti Athavle

Daydreamer - Writer - Bibliophile

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