Ambrose Bierce’s The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge depicts the execution of a southern citizen named Peyton Farquhar after his failed attempt to blow up a bridge needed by Union forces. As the story begins, an unidentified man is prepared to be hanged by a company of Union troops on a railroad bridge across a river. The person later attempts to destroy the bridge they were standing on, based on information gathered from federal operatives acting as Confederate forces. As he was being lowered from the bridge to be hanged, the rope broke, leading him to fall into the river. He was let free and returned to the surface of the river. Because the author uses imagery to describe numerous themes in descriptive language, this article will focus on the many types of images utilized by the author.
The author uses auditory imagery to explain the events around Farquhar. “Water buzzed in his ears like Niagara’s voice, but he heard the muffled roar of a volley and, as he ascended to the surface, it hit shards of bright metal,” the narrator recalls as Farquhar falls into the river below (Gale, 156). If the writer had not used phrases like “he heard muffled thunder” or “roars in his ears like Niagara’s voice,” the reader may infer that swimming back to the surface as if shocked from the bottom of a swimming pool would. Bierce incorporates auditory imagery as Farquhar approaches the forest, which is supposed to be the path to his liberty. “The weapon has thrown a wrench in the game,” the author stated. He (Farquhar) heard a deflected shot buzz in the air in front of him as he moved his head away from the roar of the impacted water, and for a little while, he snapped and crushed trees in the forest behind him (Carroll, 298). The reply reveals his dread of fleeing and provides the idea that the bridge crew is hell-bent on murdering him. In this way, auditory imagery assists in understanding the seriousness of the situation.
Kinesthetic imagery is used to depict how a character moves. Farquhar looked down at the river as he stood on the bridge, ready to die, and saw something in it. The author explains this in detail. “His gaze was drawn downstream when he saw a dancing piece of wood” (Gale, 157). He perceived the riverfront woods as a metaphor for freedom. He was liberated when the rope broke and thrown into the water. Bierce uses tactile imagery throughout the story to help the reader understand what is going on. This imagery is used to represent the hero’s physiological feelings. “He was awoken – millions of years later, it seemed – by the anguish of a sudden pressure on his neck, followed by a suffocating sensation,” Farquhar muttered as he plunged into the sea (Gale 162). He is struggling to breathe, and phrases like “suffocation” and “extreme pain” are used to describe his situation.
The author depicts Farquhar’s melancholy as “looking like a stream of throbbing flames that burns to a horrible temperature” to explain what is happening to the characters and allow the reader to engage in the struggles and sufferings to identify (Carroll, 312). A range of imagery is used throughout the novel to allow the reader to feel, hear, and see what the protagonist, Peyton Farquhar, is going through. Imagery helps the viewer grasp the plot by categorizing what happened in the tale in a different picture.
Carroll, Joseph. “Meaning and Effect in Fiction: An Evolutionary Model of Interpretation Illustrated with a Reading of “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”.” Style 46.3-4 (2012): 297-316.
Gale, Cengage Learning. A Study Guide to Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Gale, Cengage Learning, 2015. 153 – 176