“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce is a story about Peyton Fahrquhar, a wealthy Alabamian plantation owner who was devoted to the Southern cause (n.d.). It revolves on his execution and his apparent escape. The function of time plays a major role in the flow of the story. Bierce uses flashback to give his readers an overview of the character of Fahrquhar. The essence of time is emphasized in the story through its interplay of reality and fantasy. Chapter I and II is reality while Chapter 3 is based on what was going on in the mind of Fahrquhar and how through his imagination he has escaped his death. The time element in the story is presented in relation to death. The readers are led into the concept of death from the time Fahrquhar is hanged to the time where he is already in the afterlife meeting his wife. The story shows that the time that separates life from death may seem like a few minutes or maybe even hours which is what Fahrquhar seemed to experience. All these concepts of time however seem to be only in the mind of Fahrquhar. One sees the smooth flow of time in the story, which somehow creates a sense of confusion among its readers with regards to where the divide is between realism and surrealism. There are scenes in the story where one observes the pace to be too slow like in Chapter 1 and there are scenes when it seems to be in a hurried pace as shown in Chapter 3. One also took note of the changes in the verb tenses of the author sometimes using the past tense and then shifting to the present tense. One thinks that this style of the author is part of his manner of using time to be an important element of his story.
The story by Bierce is replete with figures of speech such as metaphors, personification and similes, which add to the beauty of the narrative. In Chapter 1, Bierce uses personification to describe the driftwood as “dancing” and the stream as “sluggish” (Bierce, n.d.). He also uses the simile, “a sharp, distinct metallic, percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil” to depict the sound heard by Fahrquhar (Bierce, n.d.). This sound is again described in a simile, “They hurt his ear like the trust of a knife” (Bierce, n.d.). In Chapter III, Bierce illustrated the pain felt by Fahrquhar “like streams of pulsating fire heating him to an intolerable temperature” (Bierce, n.d.). In the same Chapter, the author portrays the swinging of Fahrquhar’s body “like a vast pendulum” (Bierce, n.d.). The water where Fahrquhar dived was described as roaring in his ears “like the voice of Niagara” and “spinning like a top” (Bierce, n.d.). Bierce’s use of figures of speech gives his narrative elaborate details which help the readers imagine clearly the happenings in the story.
To show how time works in the essay, one will cite three quotes to prove this. The first quote one can find in Chapter 1 (page 2, par.2), “The intervals of silence grew progressively longer; the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the trust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch” (Bierce, n.d.). The second quote is from Chapter 3 (page 3, par 1), “As he rose to the surface, gasping for breath, he saw that he had been a long time under water” (Bierce, n.d.). Lastly, the quote is also from Chapter 3 (page 4, par 4), “All is as he left it, and all bright and beautiful in the morning sunshine. He must have traveled the entire night” (Bierce, n.d.).
Bierce, A. (n.d.). An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Retrieved July 6, 2012, from pagebypagebooks.com: http://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Ambrose_Bierce/An_Occurrence_At_Owl_Creek_Bridge/I_p2.html