Swinging from a noose off a railroad trellis, many thoughts race through a
condemned man’s mind. In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Ambrose Bierce
effectively uses literary elements to allow the reader to look through the keyhole of the
mind of a dying man in his last moments of life. Elements such as realism, flashback,
metaphor/simile, setting, point of view, and character allow the reader to become
immersed in an intrigue of the main character’s psyche.
The story begins with the events immediately leading to the hanging. This
arrangement of time encourages the reader to formulate questions regarding the past. Effectively, the author uses flashback to supply information about the character’s family and the events leading up to the hanging. The reader learns that Peyton Farquhar, the main character, is a civilian with a strong desire to serve the Southern Cause. (Bierce 1, Act II) He is setup by a Federal Scout posing as a Confederate soldier (Bierce 2, Act II, 24) with information that will eventually lead to Peyton Farquhar’s demise. The entire second act of this story is flashback and is designed to answer the reader’s inevitable questions.
Metaphor is used most noticeably in the opening section of the story. The phrase “Death is a dignitary” (Bierce 3, Act I) evokes images of an older, dignified gentleman with a quiet, reserved personality. Likewise, the explanation of military etiquette shows respect for death in the formal, quiet, ceremonious way the hanging was accomplished. This was especially evident in the motionless state of the company observing the hanging. (Bierce 4, Act I) In addition, I found dignity and respect was even given to the main character. He was still in possession of his watch, for example. Also, comparison is made using simile. “They (pains) seemed like streams of pulsating fire, heating him to an intolerable...