The story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is one that is very well written in the sense that the reader is fooled about the death of the main character, Peyton Farquhar. "As generations of readers have learned, the action of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" turns out to be an elaborate deception." (Blume) The story takes place in the southern state of Alabama during the time of the civil war. According to the northern soldiers, Peyton committed a crime and was sentenced to death by being hanged. Though the story ends with the death of Peyton, the reader is led to believe that he luckily escapes from the bridge and runs from the soldiers almost making it into his wife's arms. Although this seems realistic, in reality Peyton is just hallucinating and actually dies. The author guided the reader to believe Peyton's dream right up until the end when he reveals the truth. In Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek," the description of Peyton, the tone, the setting, and the character's conflicts are the key elements used to develop Peyton's unpredictable death at the end of the story.
The description of Peyton makes the reader believe that he was a good person and he was ultimately able to escape from his death. The reader was able to believe Peyton's hallucination because of the author's effective details about him. The author describes Peyton to be "about thirty-five years of age. He was a civilian, if one might judge from his habit, which was that of a planter."(Bierce, Page 72) Peyton was a planter and just a typical person that was trying to live his life. "His features were good- a straight nose, firm mouth, broad forehead, and from which his long dark hair was combed straight back, falling behind his ears to the collar of his well-fitted frock coat. He wore a mustache and pointed beard, but no whiskers; his eyes were large and dark gray, and had a kindly expression which one would hardly have expected in on whose neck was in the hemp."(Bierce, Page 72) Most people would not expect a man of his kind to commit a crime in which he would have to be hanged. He was not made out to be an atrocious man with appalling actions. Instead he was characterized as a man who was honorable and would do anything to defend what he loved. Peyton was married and had children who he loved and thought about at his time of death. He pictured them in his psychological escape and was almost in their arms when the soldier stepped off the platform causing the "equilibrium" (Fabo) keeping him alive to fail and he died. The author gives the reader a clear description of Peyton, which is that of a man who was only trying to defend his home, about to be hanged. Peyton's appearance contributes to the belief in the sense he would not be expected to commit such a crime and makes the reader feel more emotion and sympathy toward him. The appearance of Peyton seems to be guiltless and kind, which makes the reader think that he will not ultimately be hanged. Peyton, being described as a "well to do planter" stood in front of guards and soldiers awaiting his death, lived a life that was slightly above average. He came from an "old and highly respected Alabama family." Peyton was "a slave owner and like other slave owners a politician he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause." The author makes Peyton's life to be of good quality, and he seemed to be a fine person with respect and values. The author also states, "That opportunity, he felt, would come, as it comes to all in war time. Meanwhile, he did what he could. No service was too humble for him to perform in aid of the Southâ€¦" (Bierce, Page 73) This statement shows that Peyton was devoted to the South and felt that he needed to do his part in helping them, but he was protecting his family at the same time. "His attempt to burn down the bridge may be seen as an attempt to defend his home and family, rather than help the Confederacy." (Samide) Peyton was portrayed as a victim more than he was a criminal because he was trying to defend his family, which was in the South, with his actions. Owl Creek Bridge was the connection between the North and the South. This description of Peyton allows the reader to think he was doing a good deed, instead of just trying to hurt the northern union.
The tone of the story is a main literary element that helps the reader believe Peyton was able to escape his execution. In the first paragraph of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek" the author states, "The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck." (Page 71, paragraph 1) This description of how Peyton is positioned to die sets a tone of displeasure and a feeling of grief, and the reader has sympathy for his because he is about to die. The description of Peyton, which was that of a good man, makes the attitude of the reader more sympathetic to him. At the end, "the uniformly grey world of anguish is replaced here by the superlatives of terror and nonsense. Everything that happens is absurd and meaningless." (Fabo) The tone at the end of the story, after he is dead, is more of disappointment.
The setting of the story gives hope to Peyton's escape but it also paints a picture that shows the reader an escape would be difficult. The complex surroundings give the reader optimism for Peyton and make the story more exciting. The placement of where Peyton was going to be hung gave the reader hope to his escape and the great planning of the setting allowed the reader to believe that he was actually able to free himself from the rope and escape from the soldiers. (Samide) "No gallows has been built. Instead, the rope has been strung from an overhead timber in the middle of the Owl Creek railroad bridge." (Bierce) Peyton was not being hanged the traditional way that most think of it, instead he had water underneath him instead of land. "On conventional gallows, he would easily be recaptured because there would be solid ground beneath and no river to save him" (Samide) "Some loose boards lay upon the sleepers supporting the metals to the railway supplied a footing for him and his executersâ€¦ Beyond one of the sentinels nobody was in sight; the railroads ran straight away into a forest for a hundred yards, the, curving, was lost to view." (Bierce, Pages 71 and 72, paragraphs 1 and 2) The place where Peyton was to be hanged is one that could be either easy to escape or difficult. Peyton had soldiers surrounding him with weapons which would seem terrifying and impossible to escape, but some of the soldiers were not armed and the man closest to him only had a pistol "probably not long or with an accurate range." (Samide) Being above water, instead of land, would make it simpler for Peyton to disappear from the soldiers view but he would not be able to hide out for very long because he would eventually need to come up for air. The trees that surrounded the area would play an important role in helping Peyton hide from the soldiers and dodge their bullets.
The author portrays the character to have had a lucky break which is only thoughts not actual reality. Peyton is a protagonist in the story and is "indifferent to his own death, which does not matter to him: he registers with equanimity that he must die, although when an avenue of escape happens to open up, he does not see why he should not give it a try." (Fabó) Inside Peyton's mind is where the most significant occurrences take place. The altered reality is what sets the tone and adds to the reader's belief in Peyton's escape. (Davidson) Peyton first thinks that the rope tied around his neck breaks and he has fallen into the water. Next, he is underwater trying to untie himself. Then Peyton, after he has managed to untie himself, swims away from the soldiers, dodging their bullets. He eventually is running through the woods and is about in his family's arm when he is snapped back into reality with the floor being pulled out from under him. Peyton was only imagining his escape but the reader was persuaded into thinking it was reality by the details of his hallucinating provided by the author.
Throughout the story, the reader is given no piece to the puzzle that Peyton dies. Instead, the author describes in great emotion the fictional dream that Peyton believed. Not once did the author hint that it was not what was actually happening. At the very end of the story the floor falls beneath the reader as he or she discovers that Peyton was actually hanged and he was only dreaming that he escaped his death sentence. "The most significant occurrences at Owl Creek Bridge take place within the protagonist's mind and reflect, finally, a radically altered awareness." (Davidson) The reader was guided by the author in the mind of Peyton and was not given the truth until the ending sentences. "As he is about to clasp her he feels a stunning blow to the back of the neck; a binding white light blazes all about him with a sound like the shock of a cannon-then all is darkness and silence!" (Bierce, page 76) The reader is told that Peyton did not make it into his wife's arms but the author did not actually make it completely clear that he had died. "Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek Bridge." (Bierce, page 76) The very last sentence does a lot for the story: it breaks the news to the reader that Peyton was hallucinating and is now dead, it adds to the tone which is now a great feeling of sorrow and discomfort, and it states where he was hanging which is a part of the setting.
The author successfully showed emotion and gave suspense to the story through the tone, the setting, and character's inner conflicts. The author also gave a description of Peyton which lead the reader to believe that he was a good man and that he deserved to live. He effectively fooled the reader into believing Peyton's hallucination and at the end of the story shortly revealed the dramatic truth. "Peyton is allowed, by the author; at least have a dream of what might have been." (Davidson) Although Peyton died, the literary elements allowed the author to trick the reader into believing that Peyton was actually having a lucky break.