The first time I read through this passage I noticed the way Bierce sets up the scenes throughout it. At the very beginning it goes on to set up the stage for a man, Peyton Farquhar, and his execution. What was unique to me was how Bierce focused on depicting just exactly the men around Peyton were positioned and standing. Instead of focusing on Peyton’s thoughts and emotions as he meets his death, the author really focuses on all of the infantry men from the way they are standing to how they are holding their gun and the exact mannerisms they go about carrying out his execution. Their is only a brief paragraph describing the hanging man. “He was a captain. A sentinel at each end of the bridge stood with his rifle in the position known as “support,” that is to say, vertical in front of the left shoulder, the hammer resting on the forearm thrown straight across the chest- a formal and unnatural position, enforcing erect carriage of the body,” (pg. 1).
Even during the man’s last moments the author goes on to describe the scene taking place more than the man himself. “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,” (pg. 3).
The whole first part had be focusing on the scene that was taking place rather than the man that was being executed. The way the author fixed the details about the scene made me feel like it was a very stiff and affectless event. Typically I feel like I would’ve been more concerned with the man being hanged and just skimmed through all of the other details to find out why he was meeting his death.
3 thoughts on “Bierce, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge””
Do you have an idea as to why the narrator described the men around Peyton rather than Peyton himself? Maybe this has something to do with why Jerz asked us if we think the narrator is reliable or not. I think this part that you bring up shows that the narrator is unreliable because the reader wants to know about Peyton’s thoughts, not what the executioners are doing.
I think narrator describes the men more than Peyton because he is trying to distract us from the end that we don’t see coming. By describing what is actually taking place in so much detail it enabled me to point out indicators where the story switches from reality to fantasy.
I do think you made a great point though; I think the narrator is unreliable. The twist ending forces us to reconsider our point of view and makes us question just how much we can trust the narrator because of how much he weaved the story in and out of time sequence. But at the same time there’s one thing I question. Does describing a dream sequence make the narrator unreliable?