A Semiotic Analysis: an Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

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Michael Widmer
MDIA 4400
03/04/2013

A Semiotic Analysis: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is a short story set during the American Civil War by author Ambrose Pierce. That was later adapted into a short film by director Robert Enrico and became an episode of The Twilight Zone in 1963. Enrico used dialogue and voice-over sparingly, and relied heavily on the rural landscape, and how it transformed through war and the psychological state of the protagonist Peyton Farquhar, to convey his ideas. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge has an enormous amount of semiotic analysis in the short film. Just in the beginning of the film we see this through the sign on the tree, the Owl Creek Bridge itself and the driftwood. Our first sign of semiotics in the film we see a sign nailed to a tree stating, “ORDER ANY CIVILIAN caught interfering with the railroad, bridges, or trails will be SUMMARILY HANGED, The 4th of April 1862 (Enrico, 1968).” This gives us the timeframe and setting showing us that it’s during the Civil War in Northern, Alabama. This also shows us that our protagonist is an insurgent of war. They don’t tell us in this installment what actions he did to put him in this predicament, but we eventually end up discovering this later in Ambrose’s stories actually tells us why he is about to be hanged. One of the next important scenes is the bridge scene that Farquhar is about to be hanged from. 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. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees. Some loose boards laid upon the sleepers supporting the metals of the railway supplied a footing for him and his executioners, two private soldiers of the Federal army, directed by a sergeant who in civil life may have been a deputy sheriff. At a short remove upon the same temporary platform was an officer in the uniform of his rank, armed. He was a captain. A solider at each end of the bridge stood with his rifle in the position known as support, that is to say, vertical in front of the left shoulder, the hammer resting on the forearm thrown straight across the chest, a formal and unnatural position, enforcing an erect carriage of the body. It did not appear to be the duty of these two men to know what was occurring at the center of the bridge; they merely blockaded the two ends of the foot planking that traversed it (Pierce, 2008). The Owl Creek Bridge suggests connection and transition. Confederate sympathizers had presumably destroyed the bridge in an attempt to prevent the North from advancing deeper into enemy territory. With this important pathway restored by Union forces, the North’s war effort once again gained momentum in northern Alabama, ushering in the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy and bringing an end to the Civil War! Ironically, the target of Farquhar’s sabotage attempt becomes the platform on which his execution is staged. By sabotaging the bridge, Farquhar was attempting to destroy order and connection, just as he erodes order by fantasizing, in the final moments of his life, about disconnecting himself from his physical body. The bridge serves as an intermediary space, joining the creeks opposite banks, it is neither one side nor the other, but a connection between them. Similarly, the bridge joins life and death for Farquhar. Right as the rope snaps Farquhar escapes into the water, the bridge suggests a foreshadowing between fantasy and reality. Before the rope snaps and he falls into to the water he notices a piece of driftwood floating in the water. As we see the driftwood making its way downriver, it represents both Farquhar’s unreachable freedom and he begins imagining his own escape in the water. At first, the driftwood distracts...
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