An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

Peyton Farquhar Character Analysis

Farquhar is the protagonist of the story, and indeed most of the pertinent action involves him and him alone. He’s the only character given a formal name (not even his wife gets such a courtesy), and Bierce spends a great deal of time on his physical description. He’s a handsome Alabama plantation owner, a gentleman with “a well-fitting frock coat” and “a mustache and pointed beard, but no whiskers.” He comes from a prosperous background and carries the air of an aristocrat about him. Yet Farquhar is about to be hanged, which gives Bierce a chance to indulge in the dry irony which his work became famous for: “The liberal military code makes provision for hanging many kinds of persons, and gentlemen are not excluded,” Bierce writes. Farquhar is a slave owner dedicated to the Confederate cause, and willing to risk his own safety to advance it. Hence, he is duped into trying to sabotage a Union stockade at Owl Creek Bridge and sentenced to death by hanging as a result. This suggests a sincere devotion to his cause, but it also subtly paints him in a surprisingly negative light for a protagonist; though Bierce is careful to keep his descriptions of Farquhar objective and factual, hints crop up here and there that the story’s “hero” is actually deeply morally compromised. He is “ like other slave owners a politician,” Bierce proclaims. This links his motivations clearly to the South, and as such to the concept of slavery. The reader may feel for him since he is the underdog and possesses the seemingly pure motivation of getting back to his family, but Bierce reminds the reader that the man “assented to at least a part of the frankly villainous dictum that all is fair in love and war,” and thus suggests that justice may be served by hanging him after all.

Peyton Farquhar Quotes in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

The An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge quotes below are all either spoken by Peyton Farquhar or refer to Peyton Farquhar. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Confinement and Escape Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge published in 1994.
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Quotes

A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck.

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
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A lieutenant stood at the right of the line, the point of his sword upon the ground, his left hand resting upon his right. Excepting the group of four at the center of the bridge, not a man moved.

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar, Union Soldiers
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
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Evidently this was no vulgar assassin. The liberal military code makes provision for hanging many kinds of persons, and gentlemen are not excluded.

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar, Union Soldiers
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:
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A piece of dancing driftwood caught his attention and his eyes followed it down the current. How slowly it appeared to move! What a sluggish stream!

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar
Related Symbols: The Ticking Watch
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:
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He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thought upon his wife and children.

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar, Farquhar’s Wife
Related Symbols: Farquhar’s Family
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:
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They hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar
Related Symbols: The Ticking Watch
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
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“My home, thank God, is as yet outside their lines; my wife and little ones are still beyond the invader's farthest advance.”

As these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the doomed man's brain rather than evolved from it, the captain nodded to the sergeant.

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar (speaker), Union Soldiers
Related Symbols: Farquhar’s Family
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
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Being a slave owner and like other slave owners a politician, he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause.

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
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He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed, preternaturally keen and alert.

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar
Related Symbols: The Ticking Watch
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:
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He observed that it was a gray eye and remembered having read that gray eyes were keenest, in that all famous marksmen had them. Nevertheless, this one had missed.

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar, Union Soldiers
Related Symbols: The Ticking Watch
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
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Overhead, as he looked up through this rift in the wood, shone great golden stars looking unfamiliar and grouped in strange constellations. He was sure they were arranged in some order which hid a secret and malign significance. The wood on either side was full of singular noises, among which—once, twice, and again—he distinctly heard whispers in an unknown tongue.

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar
Related Symbols: The Ticking Watch
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
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As he pushes open the gate and passes up the wide white walk, he sees a flutter of female garments; his wife, looking fresh and cool and sweet, steps down from the veranda to meet him.

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar
Related Symbols: Farquhar’s Family
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
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As he is about to clasp her, he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like the shock of a cannon - then all is darkness and silence!

Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge.

Related Characters: Peyton Farquhar, Union Soldiers
Related Symbols: Farquhar’s Family
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
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Peyton Farquhar Character Timeline in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

The timeline below shows where the character Peyton Farquhar appears in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Confinement and Escape Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
The Civil War Theme Icon
At a railroad bridge overlooking a small creek in Northern Alabama, a man stands with a noose around his neck and his hands tied behind him. He’s guarded... (full context)
Confinement and Escape Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
The Civil War Theme Icon
The Union soldiers finish their preparations, leaving the man to be executed standing over the stream at the end of a plank. A sergeant... (full context)
Confinement and Escape Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
Perception and Reality Theme Icon
As he contemplates his last moments, the condemned man fixates on a piece of driftwood moving lazily down the stream. He attempts to set... (full context)
Confinement and Escape Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
Perception and Reality Theme Icon
The man thinks of his family again and contemplates some final means by which he might escape... (full context)
The Civil War Theme Icon
...the events that led to the man’s execution. His is a slave-owning farmer named Peyton Farquhar, dedicated to the Southern cause in the U.S. Civil War. He has a plantation near... (full context)
The Civil War Theme Icon
One evening, a man in a Confederate uniform rides up to Farquhar’s home and asks for a drink of water. While Farquhar’s wife gets the water, he... (full context)
Confinement and Escape Theme Icon
Perception and Reality Theme Icon
As Farquhar falls towards the river, he seems to lose consciousness. He appears to slowly regain his... (full context)
Confinement and Escape Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
Perception and Reality Theme Icon
Farquhar struggles towards the surface and takes in a huge gulp of air. His senses have... (full context)
Confinement and Escape Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
The Civil War Theme Icon
Perception and Reality Theme Icon
The Union soldiers begin to shoot at Farquhar and he swims away, after noting that one of the Union sharpshooters has gray eyes—supposedly... (full context)
Confinement and Escape Theme Icon
The Civil War Theme Icon
Perception and Reality Theme Icon
Farquhar runs into the forest, away from the Union soldiers. As he does so, he notes... (full context)
Confinement and Escape Theme Icon
The Civil War Theme Icon
Perception and Reality Theme Icon
The scene shifts, and Farquhar stands at the front gate of his home. As he moves forward, his wife comes... (full context)
Confinement and Escape Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
The Civil War Theme Icon
Perception and Reality Theme Icon
Farquhar’s escape was a figment of his imagination. He’s hanged dead at the end of the... (full context)