An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
Author Ambrose Bierce
Country  USA
Language English
Genre(s) short story
Published in Tales of Soldiers and Civilians
Publication date 1890
For the Twilight Zone episode of the same name, see An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (film).

"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (sometimes called "An Incident at Owl Creek Bridge") is a short story by Ambrose Bierce. It was originally published in 1890, and first collected in Bierce's 1891 book, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians. The story is famous for its irregular time sequence and twist ending.


[edit] Plot summary

Set during the American Civil War, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is the story of Peyton Farquhar, a Confederate sympathizer condemned to die by hanging upon the Owl Creek Bridge of the title. The main character finds himself already bound at the bridge's edge at the beginning of the story. It is later revealed that a disguised Union scout enlisted him to attempt to demolish the bridge, and subsequently he was caught in the act.

Part I

A gentlemanly planter in his mid-30s is standing on a railroad bridge in Alabama. Six military men and a company of infantry men are present. The man is to be hanged. As he is waiting, he thinks of his wife and children. Then he is distracted by a tremendous noise. He can not identify this noise, other than that it sounds like the clanging of a blacksmith's hammer on the anvil. He can not tell if it was far away or near by. He finds himself apprehensively awaiting each strike, which seem to grow further and further apart. It is revealed that this noise is the ticking of his watch. Then, an escape plan flashes through his mind, "throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By diving I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, take to the woods and get away home." His thoughts stray back to his wife and children. The soldiers drop him down.

Part II

Peyton Farquhar is a planter in his 30s. He lives in the South and is a major Confederate supporter, even though he is not even in the military. He goes out of his way to perform services to support and help the Confederate side. One day, a grey-clad soldier appears at his house and tells Farquhar that the Union soldiers repairing the railroads are at the nearby Owl Creek Bridge. Farquhar takes interest and asks if it is possible to sabotage the stockade the soldiers had set up, to which the soldier tells him that he could burn it down. When the soldier leaves, it is revealed that he is a Union soldier who has tempted Farquhar into a trap.

Part III

When he is hanged, the rope breaks. Farquhar falls into the water. While underwater, he seems to take little interest in the fact that his hands, which now have a life of their own, are freeing themselves and untying the rope from around his neck. Once he finally reaches the surface, he realizes his senses are superhuman. He can see the individual blades of grass and the colors of bugs on the leaves of trees, despite the fact that he is whirling around in a river. Once he realizes that the men are shooting at him, he escapes and makes it to dry land. He travels through an uninhabited and seemingly-unending forest, attempting to reach his home 30 miles away. During his journey through the day and night, he is fatigued, footsore, and famished, urged on by the thought of his wife and children. He starts to experience strange physiological events, hears unusual noises from the wood, and believes he has fallen asleep while walking. He wakes up to see his perfectly preserved home, with his beautiful, youthful, immaculately preserved wife outside it. As he runs forward to reach her, he suddenly feels a searing pain in his neck, a white light flashes, and everything goes black.

It is revealed that Farquhar never escaped at all; he imagined the entire third part of the story during the time between falling through the bridge and the noose finally breaking his neck.

[edit] Antecedents

The earliest literary antecedent appears in Don Juan Manuel's Libro de los ejemplos del conde Lucanor y de Patronio ("Book of the examples of Count Lucanor and of Patronio"), chapter XI[1], in which a life happens in an instant (1337.)

[edit] Adaptations

At least four film adaptations of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" have been produced.

  • A BAFTA Cymru winning short film by director John Giwa-Amu (Owl Creek Bridge) which has been showcased internationally. The story was adapted to follow the last days of Khalid, a young boy who is caught by a gang of racist youths.
  • In 2006, Ambrose Bierce: Civil War Stories was released which contains adaptations of three of Ambrose Bierce's short stories, among them "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" directed by Brian James Egan. The DVD also contains an extended version of the story with more background and detail than the one included in the trilogy.

[edit] Reception and influence

In 2005, Kurt Vonnegut referred to "Occurrence" in his book A Man Without a Country as one of the greatest works of American literature, and called anyone who hadn't read it a "twerp".[citation needed] Many later works have employed twist endings similar to the story's.

[edit] References to "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" in later works

  • In 2006, Bierce's story was referenced on an episode of the ABC television series Lost entitled "The Long Con", when the character John Locke is seen flicking through a copy of the book, apparently searching for something.
  • There is a reference to this story and its author on the side of the main character's truck in Konami's survival horror game Silent Hill: Origins.

[edit] Works inspired by the story or employing a similar plot device

  • Flann O Brien's Novel The Third Policeman recounts a somewhat similar plot and twist, involving an escape from a hanging death and a journey home.
  • Sir William Golding's novel Pincher Martin uses a similar artifice as Bierce's story, and Golding admits the similarity in an afterword to the novel.
  • Another literary work that can be thought of as an adumbration of the Owl Creek Bridge theme is the short story "The Secret Miracle" by Jorge Luis Borges.
  • David Lynch's movie Lost Highway.[2]
  • Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ
  • Terry Gilliam's Brazil
  • M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense
  • Richard Linklater's Waking Life
  • Jacob's Ladder (film)
  • The Life Before Her Eyes
  • Richard Kelly, the director of 'Donnie Darko' has said it was an inspiration for his film.
  • At the end of "My Occurrence", an episode of the TV series Scrubs, it becomes apparent that the lead character has imagined many of the events of the episode as he does not want to believe that a friend has cancer.
  • In rapper DMX's song ATF on It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, ATF agents are at the door, ready to raid his apartment. Following the tale of an elaborate escape and shootout, it is revealed that the last thing he hears is the ATF at the door.
  • It also inspired The Doobie Brothers song "I Cheat The Hangman".
  • The 1965 horror film Dr. Terror's House of Horrors employs a similar premise: Five men traveling on a train are met by a mysterious doctor, who proceeds to tell their fortunes. For each of them, he predicts a different fate, but each fate is horrific. He informs them that they only way they can avoid these terrible fates is by dying first. When the train finally stops, it turns out that the men are in some kind of limbo, having already perished in a train wreck.
  • The 2007 German film Yella employs the same plot device as An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. On her way to secure a better job and future in West Germany, East German Yella hesitantly agrees to a car ride from her estranged ex-husband. When she rejects taking him back, he drives both of them off a bridge and into a river. Yella emerges on the riverbank unscathed from the accident. Yet as she makes her way to the West, and following a series of premonitions that allow her to move from success to scandal to tragedy in the corporate business world, the final sequence reveals she did not survive the crash.
  • In the manga of Battle Royale, Hirono Shimizu's final thoughts, as she drowns in a well, are very reminiscent of this story---she imagines herself miraculously escaping from the well and meeting Shuya Nanahara, Noriko Nakagawa and Shogo Kawada, as the explosive collar falls off her neck on one page---on the next page, she is shown drowning, with her last words from the previous page repeating endlessly in her mind.
  • The comic book Punisher: Born features the same plot device.
  • The episode No Reason of House (TV series) is similar to "Occurrence" in plot.
  • The Heroes episode Cold Snap uses the same plot device.
  • The films Stay, The Escapist and The Descent use a similar plot device.
  • The VR.5 episode Simon's Choice uses the same plot device. The hanging is updated to the use of an electric chair.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Inner Light has Captain Picard living an entire lifetime while unconscious for 25 minutes.
  • Many viewers have interpreted the 1967 film Point Blank as having an ending that alludes to the central character Walker,played by Lee Marvin, having experienced a point of death hallucination similar to the one portrayed in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge .

Marvin's character is shot at 'Point Blank' range several times at the beginning of the picture and left for dead on the abandoned Alcatraz island where he has been part of a heist. He then resurfaces and recalls through flashbacks how he was able to swim to the mainland(regarded as being an almost insurmountable physical feat on its own for a healthy man) in spite of his mortal wounds. Other surreal flashbacks and scenes with hallucinogenic overtones also suggest that the Marvin character is trapped in some sort of alternative reality. By the end of the film when his character has achieved its aim of obtaining the monies owed to him from the aforementioned heist he seems unwilling to take it out of fear of another possible assassination attempt and or alternatively out of fear that in having accomplished his goal he may now have to face the reality of death. This final scene also takes place in the same location back on the deserted Alcatraz island where Walker was shot at the beginning of the film. However this is all subject to any individual's interpretation - Paul Anthony Cassidy

[edit] References

[edit] External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Personal tools