Reality vs. Illusion
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce is a story set in the Civil War era describing the events leading to the execution of Peyton Farquhar. In the moments prior to his execution at Owl Creek Bridge, we are given insight into the mind of Farquhar, which ultimately proves to be an illusion. On the surface, or for a first-time observer, this insight leads us to believe these events as reality, when in actuality it is in fact an illusion on the part of Farquhar created as an attempt to escape death. Reality and illusion interconnect and until the end of the story, the audience is unaware of any deception in relation to the narrative. Farquhar’s illusion, as we see it, is reality.
Farquhar is standing on a railroad bridge above shallow water awaiting his execution by the Northern army. The early morning sun is beginning to rise in the murky sky and the wintery surrounding of lifeless scenery fills the atmosphere with forthcoming mortality. His legs and wrists are bound and a noose is placed around his neck. The season portrays a sense of suppression. Defeat is symbolized as the opening scene unfolds: moments before Farquhar is about to meet his fate, a soldier removes his watch from his pocket, a symbol that time has come to an end for him. As Farquhar falls from the bridge, Ambrose leads the observer to believe the rope breaks and Farquhar falls into the deep water below. At that very moment, we find ourselves fully engrossed in Farquhar’s illusion; or what seems to observers, as reality. One of the first examples embodying Farquhar’s illusion appears as he falls into deep waters and is submerged for more than ninety seconds while removing the ties from around his wrist and legs. At the beginning, the water appeared to be shallow with rocks portraying a sense of definitive death but in fact, it is deep and merciful as we see it in Farquhar’s hopeful eyes. As Farquhar rises to the surface and gasps for breath,...
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