An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by

Ambrose Bierce

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Themes and Colors
Confinement and Escape Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
The Civil War Theme Icon
Perception and Reality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Confinement and Escape

Peyton Farquhar, the protagonist of Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” experiences a kind of “round trip” from imprisonment to freedom and back to imprisonment. Farquhar is captured and condemned to death for attempting to sabotage a Union stockade, yet just before his execution appears to experience a miraculous escape and rushes to return to his family, Union soldiers firing at him in his wake. Just when he appears…

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Life and Death

In one sense, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is an examination of the line between life and death, and at times, how the latter can heighten and enhance the former. The bulk of the story takes place in the instant of Farquhar’s death: a kind of waking dream in which he envisions a flight back to his home and family before death finally claims him. The famous “twist” ending—in which his escape from…

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The Civil War

The story takes place in the Deep South—Alabama—at some indeterminate point in the middle of the Civil War. Though it largely focuses on Farquhar’s experience of his own death, that death comes about as a direct result of his participation in the Confederate cause. He’s a local, for starters, and a slave owner as well. Bierce doesn’t delve deeply into the moral implications of Farquhar’s position but makes it clear that such a position…

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Perception and Reality

In the moments before his death, Farquhar believes he is escaping from his Union captors—that the rope intended to hang him breaks—and that he takes a long and desperate journey home. But his journey is strange and surreal, reflecting both a series of hyper-intense observations about the world around him and details which suggest he might not even be on Earth anymore, but rather in some strange alternate dimension. Of course, that perception proves to…

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