As Farquhar awaits his execution, he begins to hear “a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith's hammer upon the anvil,” which heightens his anxiety and draws out the moments before his death. It turns out to be the ticking of his own watch. Watches are often potent symbols of time in literature, and this one seems to emphasize how little time Farquhar has left. “Its recurrence was regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell,” Bierce writes, a direct link between the ticking watch and the imminent execution. Each moment of time is made clear and precise in light of Farquhar’s awareness that his time is coming to an end.
On another level, the ticking watch signifies a kind of foreshadowing. When Farquhar believes he has escaped the noose, his senses become “preternaturally keen and alert.” He sees tiny details and hears the smallest sounds as if magnified, much as he heard the distinct hammering of his own watch. The ticking watch sets the reader up for this shift in the protagonist’s senses, as both suggest a certain change in perception in the moments before death. The ticking watch, in turn, makes it easier for Bierce to segue into the surreal near-dream of Farquhar’s escape and flight.
The Ticking Watch Quotes in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
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!
They hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.
He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed, preternaturally keen and alert.
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.
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.