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“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

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1 “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
By Ambrose Bierce



4 Ambrose Bierce Born in Ohio in 1842
Parents were poor but literary couple The 10th of 13 children All kids’ names began with an “A”: Abigail, Amelia, Ann, Addison, Aurelius, Augustus, Almeda, Andrew, Albert, Ambrose, Arthur, Adelia, and Aurelia

5 Ambrose Bierce Enlisted in the Union Army’s 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment. Received newspaper attention for his daring rescue, under fire, of a gravely wounded comrade at the Battle of Rich Mountain Sustained a serious head wound at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

6 Ambrose Bierce 1913, bored, he sets off for Mexico to report on or join in its revolution. “Goodbye,” he wrote, “If you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think it a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs.” No further word was ever heard from him.


8 Setting The action takes place at a railroad bridge in northern Alabama during the U.S. Civil War, not long after the Battle of Corinth in northern Mississippi October 3 and 4, 1862.

9 Time of Day Begins early in the morning, as disclosed by the boldfaced words in the following passage in Part I [Peyton Farquhar] closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children. The water, touched to gold by the early sun, the brooding mists under the banks at some distance down the stream, the fort, the soldiers, the piece of drift–all had distracted him.  Ends in the evening of the same day. 

10 First Three Sentences:
“A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck.”

11 Characters Peyton Farquhar: Southern plantation owner who is to be hanged by Union soldiers as punishment for his attempt (or suspected attempt) to destroy Owl Creek Bridge.  Mrs. Farquhar: Farquhar's wife. Union Soldiers: They include executioners, sentinels, and overseeing officers on the bridge Union Scout: Soldier who wears Confederate gray when he rides onto Farquhar's plantation (in a flashback) and asks for a drink of water. 


13 Battle of Shiloh (Near Owl Creek)
April 6-7 On the first day of the battle, the Confederates struck with the intention of driving the Union defenders away from the river and into the swamps of Owl Creek to the west, hoping to defeat Grant's Army of the Tennessee before reinforcements showed up.

14 The Confederate battle lines became confused during the fierce fighting, and Grant's men instead fell back to the northeast, in the direction of Pittsburg Landing. A position on a slightly sunken road, nicknamed the "Hornet's Nest", defended by Union men and artillery.

15 Reinforcements arrived in the evening and turned the tide the next morning, when the Union commanders launched a counterattack along the entire line. The Confederates were forced to retreat, ending their hopes that they could block the Union advance into northern Mississippi.

16 Journal In a well-organized essay, explain the nature and relative importance of two or three means by which you keep track of time and discuss what these means reveal about the kind of person you are. (You are not limited to familiar time-keeping devices; you may consider recurring events, “inner clocks,” or other means.)

17 Soundtrack Listen to the following music and imagine where it might be placed in a movie soundtrack for “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Where is Farquhar? What is he doing? What are the Union soldiers perhaps doing?

18 Questions Do you sympathize with Farquhar? Explain your answer.
Did the Union forces have a right to hang Farquhar without first trying him in a court of law? How should civilians who participate in war be treated? Like civilians? Like soldiers?

19 Questions Do you believe Bierce’s story deserve the consideration to be a classic? Explain.

20 Questions What methods does Bierce use to build suspense?
Explain Bierce’s views of war and the military. How does he feel about it? Support your response with examples from the text.

21 Questions Is Ambrose Bierce biased toward one side of the Civil War? Does the narrator describe the Union soldiers more positively than Farquhar, or vice versa?

22 Questions If you knew you were about to die, what would you think about? Would it be similar to Farquhar’s?

23 Questions If you were one of the Union soldiers, how would you deal with the capital punishment about to be committed on Peyton Farquar?

24 Your Opinion Farquhar deserves to be executed since he disobeyed a rule and attempted to burn down a bridge.

25 Your Opinion Farquhar’s sentence is too harsh. He doesn’t deserve to die as punishment for trying to burn down a bridge, especially because he is a civilian and not a soldier.

26 Your Opinion War is an inescapable force that destroys everything in its path.

27 Your Opinion If you were to rewrite the story from the perspective of one of the soldiers, what would it be like? How would one of the soldiers experience reality in the moments before and after Farquhar is hanged?

28 Questions Did the ending surprise you? Why or why not?

29 Questions How long does it take for Farquhar to die?
Why does the verb tense change from past tense to present tense in the second to last paragraph?

30 Peyton Farquhar- A. is tricked by a scout for the opposition
B. betrays his own people for money C. turns his back on his wife and children D. lives a long and prosperous life

31 Early in the story, what interrupts Farquhar's thoughts about his wife and children?
A. A train heading toward the bridge B. A hail of bullets C. the arrival of more troops D. The ticking of his watch

32 After the board is kicked out from under him, Farquhar experiences-
A. an intense sharpening of his senses B. despair and grief C. a surprising burst of happiness D. relief that he is going to live

33 After Farquhar appears to have escaped from the gunfire while in the river, he-
A. is too exhausted to swim B. is kicked up by a passing riverboat C. is recaptured and shot at once D. lands on a bank and runs through the woods

34 How much actual time passes in the story?
A. A few minutes B. A few hours C. One day D. A day and a night

35 In part, the flashbacks in this story best illustrate-
A. the importance of staying true to one's values B. how all reality is an illusion C. the price Confederates pay for being traitors D. our deep attachment to life E. Farquhar's love of his plantation and the Confederacy's values

36 When Farquhar hears his watch ticking with an exaggerated intensity, Bierce is using the point of view known as- A. 2nd person limited B. 1st person C. Objective D. 3rd person limited E. 2nd person objective

37 Platonic Criticism

38 Aristotelian Criticism

39 Horatian Criticism

40 Longinian Criticism

41 Formalist Criticism

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