An Occurance At Owl Creek Bridge Essay

, Research Paper

An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge

People can easily recognize that a butterfly, a horse, or a tree are alive and that a

bike, a computer, and a lamp are not. People call a thing living if it is capable of

performing certain activities, such as growth or reproduction. Biologists, however, have

a hard time defining life. They have difficulty locating the dividing line between living

and nonliving things. All scientist do agree however that one characteristic of all living

things is the will to live that they all possess. Without this will living organisms would

not be able to flourish as they most certainly do. Ambrose Bierce?s short story "An

Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is a perfect example of the power of the will to live. It

is the story of a man who is sentenced to death by asphyxiation. He thinks to himself "If

I could free my hands, I might throw off my noose and spring into the stream…By diving

I could evade the bullets and swimming vigorously, reach the bank." This is surely the

talk of a man who has the will to live. Up until the last nanoseconds of his execution, he

imagines an elaborate escape in which he manages to reach his home and family.

Peyton Farquhar is a southern gentleman, "..of a highly respected Alabama

family," in the times of the civil war. "His features were good, a straight nosed, firm

mouthed, broad forehead from which his long dark hair was combed straight back, falling

behind his ears to the collar of his well-fitting frock coat." Due to circumstances not

described in the story, Peyton was not able to join his beloved state to fight for the

"southern cause." Because of this he wanted to do all that he could to fulfill his part.

When he heard of the opportunity to destroy a bridge that was needed by the federal

army, he jumped at the chance. He was not sorry for what he attempted to do when he

got caught. He supposed that he "…a civilian and student of hanging [might] evade the

picket post and perhaps get the better of the sentinel." He was however disappointed that

due to his capture he would never again see his family. Peyton Farquhar loved his wife

and children. In his last moments on this earth Farquhar "…closed his eyes in order to fix

his last thoughts upon his wife and children."

Being a plantation owner affected Farquhar?s politics. He needed to look after his

land for the sake of his family name and his children. "Being a slave owner and like

other slave owners, a politician, he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently

devoted to the southern cause." Because of his devotion to the southern cause he was

easily foiled by a Union Spy. Farquhar was tricked into attempting to blow up the bridge.

The Federal Spy, dressed as a confederate soldier told Farquhar that "…there is a lot of

driftwood against the wooden pier at this end of the bridge. It is dry and would burn like

tow…The Yanks are repairing the railroads and are preparing for another advance." This

got Peyton Farquhar thinking that he could become a hero. And if he failed he would be

a martyr to the southern cause. After Farquhar?s conversation, the man with whom he

was conversing headed north.

After Farquhar was captured by the Federal soldiers, he was dragged onto the

bridge and a noose tied around his neck. In the moments before his death he imagined

that he escaped. We don?t know how long that he waited there for his execution, but is

time a measurable entity as scientists would have us believe, or is it a human construct -

and a subjective one at that? In this unknown expanse of time Peyton "… closed his eyes

in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children." When he shut his eyes

Farquhar felt he was in "..full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed,

preternaturally keen and alert. Something in the awful disturbance of his organic system

had so exalted and refined them that they made record of things never before perceived."

His mind went into a state of nirvana. He was at peace with himself. His perception of

reality was altered. Before his death he saw and perceived more than he ever did in his


Up until the last nanoseconds of Peyton Farquhar?s execution, he thought of an

escape in which he makes it home to his wife and children. His will to live was strong.

He could not help it, it came naturally to him, as it does to all living organisms. He loved

his wife and children very dearly. He was a strong supporter of the southern cause. He

could not go to his death bed not knowing how his two greatest loves would turn out. He

had to survive. Even if it was only the thought of surviving. It had to be possible to

somehow untie the ropes that bound his hands and feet. If it could be done, if it couldn?t

be done, Peyton Farquhar would try, because he had the will to live.


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