Deception in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"

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Ambrose Bierce's short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge tells a story during the American Civil War. Peyton Farquhar, an ardent supporter of the South, would be hanged at the Owl Creek bridge by the Federal army for attempting to damage the bridge to prevent the advance of the northern troops. As the execution was carried out, Farquhar fell into a fantasy where he thought the rope broke and he was going on his way to an escape. However, after "hours of arduous journey to life"--which only amounted to a few seconds in reality--Farquhar only reached his inevitable destiny--a death with a broken neck. Most of the readers would find the ending striking and abrupt, for they, like Farquhar himself, are nearly convinced of the success of the escape. However, viewing the story once more, I found that Ambrose Bierce did provide evidences before the ending that suggest that the narrative was inconsistent with reality. One piece of the evidence is about Farquhar's "preternatural" physical senses after he thought that the rope had broken and he had fallen into the water. The narrative tells that Farquhar saw "the individual trees (on the river bank), the leaves and the veining of each leaf", saw "the very insect upon them", and heard the rush of fish in the water. Yet, a man's vision could not reach that far and his hearing could not be that sharp--let alone the situation in which he was struggling in the turbulent water. So what Farquhar perceived couldn't be true, but could only be his imagination. Another evidence of the protagonist's fascination is what he "saw" while he believed that he was in the forest. Farquhar found the road "was as wild and straight as a city street", "the black bodies of the trees formed a straig... ... middle of paper ... ... narrative was abnormal, I just took it as a technique that the author used to make the escape more vivid and absorbing, to reflect on how eagerly and desperately the protagonist wanted to survive. To me, because Farquhar was straining every nerve to preserve his last chance for life, his somewhat abnormal observation sounded less abnormal. Ambrose Bierce composed the story with great technique. He first arose reader's sympathy for Peyton Farquhar, which caused them to accept the idea of an escape. Then, he hid those evidences between the lines and created a tense atmosphere to make readers pay less attention to those abnormal narratives. It was not until the end that he brought out the truth explicitly. So to conclude, the reader's sympathy for Peyton Farquhar, and the way Ambrose Bierce composed his story, contribute a lot to their feeling of being deceived.
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