The Shelter in Fantasy: A Structuralist's View of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"

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Ambrose Bierse's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge portrays an execution scene in which Peyton Farquhar, a Confederate, is hanged by Federals in northern Alabama during the Civil War. The story penetrates into the Confederate's mind and reveals his reflection before his death.

The story can be interpreted through uncovering the binary oppositions. The major binary opposition dominating throughout the story is reality versus fantasy. Under this binary opposition, other binary oppositions, including freedom/imprisonment, powerful/powerless and hope/imprisonment are made possible. Beside reality/ fantasy, the cause of Peyton Farquhar's capture and death sentence can be understood through the binary opposition of appearance versus truth.

The cause of Farquhar's downfall is exhibited by the binary opposition appearance/ truth as he mistakenly assumes the appearance into truth. Driven by his eagerness to obtain "distinction" and fulfill his ambition to pursue a military career, he falls into the snare laid by a Federal spy.

He mistakes the spy's identity as a Confederate soldier and takes his intelligence into truth. Thus, the river, which is supposed to be piled with driftwood has "the swirling water of the stream racing madly" and he is captured on the bridge supposed to be guarded by "a single sentinel". Contrary to his ambition to accomplish a great deed, he is reduced from a civilian into a war criminal. The appearance of a prosperous military service is disillusioned and replaced by a humiliating situation and a death sentence.

To flee from the threat of death, he sinks into thoughts of escape and turns them into fantasy. His first step away from the reality is demonstrated in his perception of the sound. In reality, the execution ground is absolutely silent, ruled by the "military etiquette" so that the ticking of his watch is audible to him.