, 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.