By showing to the readers that so much drama could be contained in a brief period of time, Bierce is suggesting that there is a great scope for happiness and enjoyment during human lifetime which we don’t realize in the normal course. This perspective is evident in Bierce’s other important work ‘The Damned Thing’. In the case of the short story in question, the high-adrenaline condition created by the thought of approaching mortality had taken Peyton’s imagination to a surreal zone. In this state of mind, the small hopeful signs of his escape from death look magnified and magnificent. His powers of perception and the intake of sensory stimuli were taken to new heights. For example,
“he felt the ripples upon his face and heard their separate sounds as they struck. He looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual trees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf–saw the very insects upon them: the locusts, the brilliant-bodied flies, the grey spiders stretching their webs from twig to twig. He noted the prismatic colors in all the dewdrops upon a million blades of grass…..” (Bierce, 1890)
Without tending to advocate moral relativism, Bierce adroitly handles the delicate job of showing heroic virtues alongside human frailties in the character of Peyton Farquhar. Him being a white southern slave owner, he is culpable of participating and perpetrating the institution of slavery. But this does not discredit his virtues in other areas of life. His allegiance to the confederate cause should be appreciated, since he was willing to risk his life to sabotage Unionists’ march further south. His genuine love for his wife and children is also very touching, especially when we consider that the whole hallucinatory sequence was triggered by this love. The whole object of his will to escape death was to rejoin and embrace the warmth of his family members. What this shows is that Peyton Farquhar’s complicity with the practice of slavery does not necessarily make him an immoral man. (Gale, 2001, p.25) His bravery and attachment to his family make him an ideal head of family in the Southern cultural context.
In conclusion, the points mentioned above underscore the unique perspectives witnessed in the story. They also go on to show that Ambrose Bierce infuses the story with key insights into the psychology of distress and trauma. The story also stands out for its universal appeal. That is, the value, meaning and relevance of the story, remains intact across cultures, nationalities and milieus. In other words, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge would have retained its popularity and relevance even if it was set in a different continent at a totally different period in history, for the essence of the story, namely that of a honest man’s love for his family and how this affects his thoughts during the brief few moments before death, could be understood and appreciated by all of us. Since psychology as a field of study is all about distilling common anxieties, concerns and fears afflicting the human mind, the story is a perfect case study for students of the discipline. That it is a fictitious account of an individual’s psychology is impertinent here, for the genre employed by the author is realism not fantasy or science-fiction.
Bierce, Ambrose, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, retrieved from <http://fiction.eserver.org/short/occurrence_at_owl_creek.html> on 17th December, 2010
Gale, Robert L. (2001), An Ambrose Bierce Companion /. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
James G. Powers, (Summer 1982), “Freud and Farquhar: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge?” Studies in Short Fiction 19: 278–281
Stoicheff, Peter. (1993), “”Something Uncanny”: The Dream Structure in Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.”.” Studies in Short Fiction 30.3: 349+.