" (311) -- a point that confirms the fantastic nature of his escape even as it foreshadows its collapse.Having fled the river and arrived at the street leading home, Farquhar hears "whispers in an unknown tongue" (312), and at that word -- "tongue" -- Bierce returns his protagonist to the reality of his hanging, contracting the play of Farquhar's preternatural senses to the image of his tongue swelling and thrusting forward.But nobility in the Farquhar family is always faintly ridiculous.
On the bridge, having noted the swiftness of the stream's current, Farquhar has observed a pivotal object floating upon it. Time and space are suddenly altered, and Farquhar thinks, "What a sluggish stream! His dream begins, perhaps before the hanging itself commences.
Fittingly, the object floating down the stream is a "piece of dancing driftwood" (306), the very same driftwood that, had he succeeded at burning it, would have served as the crowning instrument of his heroism.
A generation earlier, Edgar Allan Poe, with whom Bierce is often compared because of their interest in the psychology of the grotesque, had begun to investigate the deformities of self-engrossment, that wayward spirit of independence so determinedly American, like Emerson's glossy and self-reliant Yankee or Dickinson's brooding "Soul" that seals itself up in a vault of its own society.
Milton, battling for the character of his own England during civil war, considered narcissism the precursor to anarchy.
former NEH Fellow at Harvard University, now teaches modern American literature and film at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. This is Bierce's most concentrated realism, unmasking the vainglory and personal arrogance of a Romantic culture."An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (1890) depicts the heroic delusions of a citizen saboteur as he is being hanged by the Union army.
Eliot, Horace, and the Formalist Empire" (Farquhar's enthrallment with the driftwood, fantastically distorting his perception of time and space, pre-empts any final reconnection to his life in a real world.Bierce does more in this story, however, than play with his readers' assumptions."Owl Creek Bridge" is also a case study in Farquhar's moral deformity.This sabotage will release Farquhar's true "energies," which the "inglorious restraint" of his having escaped -- perhaps dodged -- the Civil War has thus far suppressed (307).These supposed "energies" thus become the very substance of his fantasy escape.Satan is indicted in (1667) as intractably "self-roll'd"; he cannot see beyond himself, a failure that darkens all of hell.Poe translates that hell of narcissism to a pitch-black apartment in which the speaker of "The Tell-Tale Heart" (1843) murders his landlord, whose "evil eye" has "vexed” him. Indeed, having exploded in a confession to the police, the convict now adjures his audience to "Hearken! In "Owl Creek Bridge," the protagonist's self-aggrandizing narrative appears, at first, to be perfectly realistic and reasonable. Genteel southern ideals about noble soldiering -- "the larger life of the soldier, the opportunity for distinction" -- have loomed over Farquhar like father and judge. We know Poe's speaker to be mad from the start, but Farquhar seems only to have bitten off more than he could chew -- trying to burn down a bridge used by Union troops -- so we forgive him for his error and indulge his final delusion. In fact, subtly though not always discreetly, he is hanging him for it.  They have been the vexing eye upon him, despite the absence of any condescension or condemnation from his community.But this narration actually occurs from within the fantasy already begun.His "last thoughts" before hanging were not of his family at all.