Theme of Time in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce controls real and perceived time throughout the story. Real time is used at the beginning and ending of the story. Perceived time is used in the middle of the story during Farquhar’s escape. Bierce’s story shows that time is a very personal and unique event. Evidence from this story will prove how time is used in this story.
Real time in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is used in the beginning and the end. The beginning sentence “A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below” is real time in the present tense (Bierce). The description of the bridge, Fahrquhar, sentinels, executioners, and observing troops are described in real time. The circumstances of Fahrquhar going to the bridge were in real time, but in the past tense. “One evening while Fahrquhar and his wife were sitting on a rustic bench near the entrance to his grounds” (Bierce). The last line is also in real time; “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; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge” (Bierce). This occurrence is in real time as well. Fahrquhar’s death is real. His time on Earth was over. These events were real.
Perceived time is in the middle of the story. “As Peyton Fahrquhar fell straight downward through the bridge he lost consciousness and was as one already dead. From this state he was awakened — ages later, it seemed to him — by the pain of a sharp pressure upon his throat, followed by a sense of suffocation. Keen, poignant agonies seemed to shoot from his neck downward through every fiber of his body and limbs” (Bierce). These sentences start the perceived time of escape. This escape last in the middle of the story. It has a whole timeline of Fahrquhar in the water and finally reaching home. This story was not real. The reader did not know this at the time, but Bierce was fooling the reader by using Fahrquhar’s last thoughts as reality. This timeline lasted for the rest of the day.
Bierce through his manipulation of time shows that a person’s perception of time is unique. Fahrquhar’s perception of time was real and perceived. The real time Fahrquhar had to eventually face. His execution and eventual death was reality. Fahrquhar’s perceived time was a self-defense mechanism. He could not face the reality of his impending death, so his mind went into a safe fantasy of escape. A different man or woman might have faced their death differently. A bachelor would not have dreamed of an escape to a wife. A woman may have cried uncontrollably. The point is time and events are personal and unique to the individual. Whether facing real or perceived time, the event is different for every person. Fahrquhar wanted to escape. His mind invented the only possible escape. The problem was the rope did not break. Fahrquhar ended up dying on a hangman’s noose.
The influence of time during “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” changed the perception of time. There was real time and perceived time. The real time chronicled Fahrquhar’s capture, hanging, and event leading to the bridge. Perceived time was Fahrquhar’s dream of escaping. The real and perceived time was a personal and unique event to Fahrquhar. The whole time scenario made the story a good read. It allowed the reader to want to reread the story again and again. The time manipulation allowed for a different twist to a short story.
Bierce, Ambrose. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.”