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Blake Dean
Dr. Kerri Allen
English 1102-09
15 April 2015
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge: Blending Illusion and Reality
In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Ambrose Bierce tells the story of a man in
northern Alabama named Peyton Farquhar who is being hanged. Bierce separates the story into
three sections. Through these three sections he introduces Farquhar, tells of his hanging, and
surprises the readers with Farquhars sudden death. Throughout the story, Bierce explains the
reason Farquhar is put to death and the events that lead up to his death. Bierce gives the narrator
a specific point of view and a unique structure for his story; Bierce makes the reader believe all
the events that unfold are reality when in fact some are Farquhars illusions. In An Occurrence
at Owl Creek Bridge, Bierce shows that the line between reality and illusion can be blurred by
perspective.
Bierce gives the narrator a specific point of view to show how perspective can alter a
readers perception of a characters reality. The narrator tells this story in a distant manner with
no personal connection to the characters or events. For example, when the narrator says, As
Peyton Farquhar fell straight downward through the bridge he lost consciousness and was as one
already dead. (Bierce 771) If the narrator had a personal connection to any of the characters,
Farquhar falling to his demise would not be told in such a factual and cold way. In the first and
second section, the narrator tells how the events unfold but does not share many internal thoughts
or feelings of the characters. However, in the third section, readers learn that the narrator is
telling of the illusions that Farquhar is experiencing right before he dies. By using a distant

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narrator, Bierce makes the narrator seem reliable to the readers. Using a narrator who is not
personally connected to the story, Bierce seamlessly blends reality and illusion without the reader
being aware. The perspective that Bierce presents is one with a tone of certainty so that the
reader does not question the reality of the story being told.
Bierce creates an unorthodox structure for An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. By
placing the rising action before the exposition, Bierce heightens the readers curiosity in the
outcome of the story. This heightened sense of curiosity causes the reader to accept Farquhars
story as fact and not question the reality of the moments before his death. Bierce separates his
story into three parts, each part holding a different purpose. The first section tells of the hanging
of an unknown character, this captivates your readers and builds curiosity. The narrator states,
The man who was engaged in being hanged was apparently about thirty-five years of age. He
was a civilian, if one might judge from his habit, which was that of a planter (Bierce 769). The
author is giving the reader information about the man being hanged so that the readers begin to
ask themselves why an ordinary planter is being hanged. Using quotes like this one, Bierce is
heightening the curiosity of the reader. The first section also plants questions into the minds of
the readers about the fate of Farquhar and why he is being hanged in the first place.
The second section introduces Farquhar and explains the events leading up to his
hanging. This section clarifies the readers questions from the first section and makes the readers
believe that the narrator is trustworthy. The narrator states, No service was too humble for him
to perform in the aid of the South, no adventure to perilous for him to undertake if consistent
with the character of a civilian who was at heart a soldier (Bierce 770) This quote gives the
readers an insight into the motivations of Farquhar. By showing his patriotism and humility, the

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author is showing the reader that Farquhar is a trustworthy storyteller. Making the reader believe
that Farquhar is trustworthy allows the ending of the story to be more effective.
The third section continues the telling of the hanging but also adds the delusion Farquhar
experiences just moments before his death. The narrator describes the moments before
Farquhars death saying, As he is about to clasp her he feels a stunning blow upon the back of
the neck; a blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like the shock of a cannon
then all is darkness and silence! Peyton Fahrquhar was dead (Bierce 774) Adding this illusion
makes the end of the story more dramatic and shocking to the reader. This kind of dream that
Farquhar experiences are what French historian, Tzvetan Todorov describes as the uncanny.
The uncanny is where the reader believes the laws of reality remain intact and permit an
explanation of the phenomena described. (Stoicheff 350) By explaining Farquhars dream
sequence in realistic detail, he manipulates the reader into believing that the dream is in fact
reality. Through his structure of the story and realistic storytelling, Bierce was able to effectively
surprise the readers with the death of Farquhar.
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge shows that the perspective through which a story
is told can influence the readers perception of a characters reality. By using a specific point of
view for the narrator, Bierce lets the reader believe the story being told so that the end of the
story is surprising for the reader. Also, Bierce uses a unique structure to intrigue the reader and
convince them that the illusion Farquhar experiences is reality instead of the fiction it turns out to
be. Each section of his story has a specific purpose for the part of the story it tells. Through his
structure and realistic storytelling, Bierce makes the audience believe the narrator causing the
ending to come as a surprise. By using these two elements, Bierce shows the importance of
perspective and how the way a story is told greatly influences how the reader perceives the story.

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Works Cited
Bierce, Ambrose. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge The Norton Introduction to Literature.
11th ed. Ed Kelly J. Mays New York: W.W. Norton, 2013. 768-74. Print.
Stoicheff, Peter. "'Something Uncanny': The Dream Structure In Ambrose Bierce's 'An
Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.'." Studies In Short Fiction 3 (1993): 349. Literature
Resource Center. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.