Blather, Wince, Repeat
Sometimes when encountering a piece of literature for a second time, it takes one a few sentences to recall their previous sojourn into the story. In especially trying circumstances (perhaps the reader is tired or distracted, or the story is complex) one may read with a feeling of vague familiarity, and make it halfway through the text before she remembers she's read the story before.
I made it to the last sentence before I remembered I read this in high school.
One thing that makes this story forgettable to me is the constant emphasis on the amount of pain Farquhar is in. Yes, I understand he was being hanged, and that may be a tad uncomfortable, but we get it already. It got to the point where each time I saw the words "sharp pain," "hurt," or "agonies," I scanned hurriedly on.
When the big twist at the end of the story was revealed (both that Farquhar was dead and that I'd actually read this before), I wanted to be moved. I swear I did. I even looked up from my book, studied my surroundings, then read the sentence again. But, nothing. I found myself thinking, who cares? I mean, bummer, but what was the point of the story? Hanging hurts? Hanging kills? It doesn't pay to be a Confederate?
This story did offer us a heroic man from a side of the civil war that is not usually celebrated. One thing Bierce did provide was a character that we could disagree with, but still admire. I'm as against slavery as the next person, but I still think courage is admirable. And, to be blunt, courage is courage, whether practiced by a police officer or a slave owner.
But, as far as the story's message goes, Bierce left me hanging.