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An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

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"A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama ... A rope closely encircled his neck..."

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge opens with the story's hero, Peyton Farquhar, hanging bound from a bridge, awaiting hanging. Farquhar is a Confederate sympathizer in the American Civil War and has been brought to this end by a Union spy. The novel was unique in its time for its jumbled chronology and is also famous for its surprising conclusion.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist and satirist. Today, he is best known for his short story, 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge' (1890) and his satirical lexicon, 'The Devil's Dictionary' (1911).

32 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 1890

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About the author

Ambrose Bierce

1,876 books1,157 followers
Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (1842-1914) was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist and satirist. Today, he is best known for his short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and his satirical lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary.

The sardonic view of human nature that informed his work – along with his vehemence as a critic, with his motto "nothing matters" – earned him the nickname "Bitter Bierce."

Despite his reputation as a searing critic, however, Bierce was known to encourage younger writers, including poet George Sterling and fiction writer W. C. Morrow.

Bierce employed a distinctive style of writing, especially in his stories. This style often embraces an abrupt beginning, dark imagery, vague references to time, limited descriptions, the theme of war, and impossible events.

Bierce disappeared in December 1913 at the age of 71. He is believed to have traveled to Mexico to gain a firsthand perspective on that country's ongoing revolution.

Despite an abundance of theories, Bierce's ultimate fate remains a mystery. He wrote in one of his final letters: "Good-bye. If you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think it is a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico--ah, that is euthanasia!"

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,043 reviews
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
September 20, 2019
”Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him. In the code of military etiquette silence and fixity are forms of deference.”

Due to unspecified reasons, Peyton Fahrquhar has never joined the glorious fight for the Confederacy, but he is a firm secessionist and is ardently devoted to the cause. He is a wealthy Alabama planter with a pretty wife and a passel load of children. When he discovers that the bridge at Owl Creek has been rebuilt by the invading army of the Union, he decides this is his chance to do something for the Southern cause.

His eyes are bespeckled by the splendorous beacon of glory.

In other words, he is blinded by his vision of his own future achievement.

Many times there is a razor thin line between success and failure. We are not privy to how close to being successful our gentleman of mayhem was to destroying the bridge, but we do know that his illusion of glory has ended in an inglorious, frankly embarrassing, reality.

He is about to be hung.

At moments like this something happens to our senses. I remember when I had my Jeep accident. I was flipping over and over. Sounds were amplified. The crunch of steel was like a Wagner crescendo. The sound of breaking glass was like shrieking sirens. Everything slowed down to where I could watch individual pieces of glass moving so slowly that I could have caught them with a pair of chopsticks.

I was NEO.

For Fahrquhar, it is his watch, ticking so loud that to his ears it sounds like iron being molded by a hammer on an anvil. Everything seems brighter and more significant. He is standing on the bridge he had meant to destroy. His life is literally hanging in the balance, about to be dispatched by this inanimate object’s ability to suspend his weight long enough for his life to be taken from him.

”As to his head, he was conscious of nothing but a feeling of fullness -- of congestion. These sensations were unaccompanied by thought. The intellectual part of his nature was already effaced; he had power only to feel, and feeling was torment. He was conscious of motion. Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum.”

Any time the word pendulum is used in a story I can’t help but think of Poe.

”I now observed, with what horror it is needless to say, that its nether extremity was formed of a crescent of glittering steel, about a foot in length from horn to horn; the horns upward, and the under edge evidently as keen as that of a razor. Like a razor also it seemed massy and heavy, tapering from the edge into a solid and broad structure above. It was appended to a weighty rod of brass, and the whole hissed as it swung through the air.” Edgar Allan Poe The Pit and the Pendulum

There are some very clever twists, and the author, Ambrose “Bitter” Bierce, leaves you a few breadcrumbs along the way. He was known for his sardonic view of human nature. Whenever I read a Bierce story, which it has been way too long since I’ve read the last one, I come away feeling that he is speaking from personal experience. The hanging scene in this story, you would swear the man has been dangling from a rope at some point in time in his history. His stories are dark and feel so real that I have to slap myself across the face periodically to make sure I don’t find myself trapped in a world of Bierce’s making.

Bierce, in typical Bierce fashion, heads down to Mexico and is never heard of again. He is gone like smoke caught in a Western wind.

I would recommend reading this story without commentary and then reading it a second time with analysis because Bierce has layered in some symbolism into the story. He then camouflaged these metaphors with leaves and broken branches. If you move your head too fast your eyes will just skim right over the top of them. You can see ‘em, but you have to be looking right at ‘em. Highly Recommended!

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Zain.
1,378 reviews142 followers
May 11, 2023
Great Ending!

Peyton Farquhar is the staunchest defender of slavery. Loyal patriot of the Confederacy’s cause, he is eager to do anything to support the succession.

One day a soldier wanders by his farm for a drink of water. His wife feels it is an honor to get him water, herself, and refuses to call on a slave to attend to him.

When the soldier mentions that the Northern Army is in control of The Owl Creek Bridge, and will hang anyone who tampers with it, Farquhar, gleefully volunteers to burn the bridge down.

The soldier, in the grey uniform, encourages him to do so, then thanks his wife for the water and leaves the farm...heading north.

A well written five stars book. 💫💫💫💫💫
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
April 24, 2018
What a genius story! I read four classic short stories back to back one night in a "great short stories" reading binge, and this one was by far my favorite of the four. (They were all online freebies; there's a good link for this one below.) This is a memorable tale that has stuck with me.


During the U.S. Civil War, Peyton Farquhar, a southern gentleman and a Confederate sympathizer, is being summarily hanged to death on Owl Creek Bridge by Union forces, after trying to sabotage the bridge. Unexpectedly the rope breaks! and he's off on a desperate swim and run, trying to evade recapture. This is a well-known story and short film, and if you haven't read it yet you really need to do that before reading many reviews, because spoilers are almost impossible to avoid and you really don't want to be spoiled if you don't know the ending yet.

After you've read it once, I strongly recommend that you reread it, to see how many clues Bierce gives you . I was completely fascinated by the dual nature of Bierce's storytelling.

It's free online many places, including here at www.ambrosebierce.org. Read this unannotated version here, and then read the annotated version here right after that (you have to browse through or skip some notes, a bibliography, and another unannotated version of the story first). The annotated version has a truly fantastic section-by-section analysis and compilation of critical commentary that gave me a lot of additional insights.

Here's some of the most interesting analysis that I saw there, if you're interested in a deeper dive. The biggest spoilers are tagged, but proceed at your own risk:

Part I:
• Notice that this first part of the story is told in clear, concise, abrupt sentences, fitting the military setting and the summary punishment being dealt out here.
• Some of the narrator's language describing Farquhar is a little sardonic (e.g., "Evidently this was no vulgar assassin."), perhaps indicating that the narrator doesn't really view Farquhar as much of a gentleman or as particularly intelligent.
• As the point of view slips into Farquhar's inner perceptions, notice how the language changes to become more emotional and unreal.
• Notice how the ticking of his watch seems "as slow as the tolling of a death knell." His subjective view of time is stretching.

Part II:
• This part flashes back to describe what happened before the scene at the bridge. Reading it carefully, you can see some more suggestions -- often using ironic language -- that Farquhar isn't quite the hero or gentleman that he might at first seem: he's a slave owner (which is his primary reason for supporting the Confederacy, not more noble feelings like patriotism), he somehow avoided military service, he "in good faith and without too much qualification assented to at least a part of the frankly villainous dictum that all is fair in love and war."
• Note the twist at the end of this section.

Part III:
• As Farquhar fell, he felt like "he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum."
• He feels himself rising to the surface of the river .
• All of the strangely clear details Farquhar notices are a hint
• Somehow he sees, through a rifle scope, a shooter's grey eye staring at him. Since he himself has grey eyes, this implies that he's subconsciously seeing himself.
• As he walks through the night toward his home, his neck is in terrible pain, his eyes are congested and can no longer close, his tongue is swollen and sticking out, he can't even feel the road beneath his feet...

Such a fantastic, sneaky story.
Profile Image for Dr. Appu Sasidharan (Dasfill).
1,145 reviews2,178 followers
May 15, 2023
A person is waiting for his fate, death by hanging. There seems to be no escape for him. Ambrose Pierce tells his story in this book.

This book is considered one of the best short stories by Ambrose Pierce. It tells the story of Peyton Farquhar, who waits for his fatal end on Owl Creek Bridge.

My favorite three lines from this book.
"The intellectual part of his nature was already effaced; he had power only to feel, and feeling was torment. He was conscious of motion. Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum."

"It looked like diamonds, rubies, emeralds; he could think of nothing beautiful which it did not resemble."

"All that day he traveled, laying his course by the rounding sun. The forest seemed interminable; nowhere did he discover a break in it, not even a woodman's road. He had not known that he lived in so wild a region. There was something uncanny in the revelation."

Many topics are embedded in it, like racism, survival instincts and presence of mind in crucial situations. This is also a book that is worth rereading multiple times during different phases of your life.

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Profile Image for Beverly.
806 reviews291 followers
January 27, 2019
I read this in high school and fell in love with it. A masterpiece of the short story form, it is perfect, each word leads to the devastating conclusion. And still you are shocked!
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
May 1, 2012
A nondescript locale…an ordinary man…a simple hanging...
Occurrence 1

A crime of entrapment…a law upheld…a punishment rendered…
Owl Creek hanging

A life cut short...fear...regret...despair...
Hanging 2


A miracle...a broken rope...a death forestalled...hope renewed...
hanging water

A fate escape…a second change…LIFE...
Up from water

Thoughts of home...of love...of family...joy returns...

A difficult journey…a struggle worthwhile...a blissful reunion…


Turn the page…


A work of extraordinary precision, subtlety and grace. Bierce manages to encapsulate the whole gamut of human existence in a scant 20 pages.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book863 followers
September 28, 2020
This is a quick one, but an excellent one, nonetheless. I was very much impressed by the first chapter, which is like a detailed description of some painting, where each piece of the picture reveals something new about the situation. The second chapter is a short flashback. The third is stunning, with luxuriant depictions of sounds, visuals and bodily sensations. What comes at the end is an utter surprise. Gripping.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,137 followers
April 11, 2017
Oh My!

First published in 1890, this very dark very-short-story classic of death by hanging is loaded with atmosphere and substance.

In just a few pages, this eerie tale tells of a man who loves his wife and children, a man dedicated to the cause during Civil War time, a man who envisions ways to escape the rope around his neck, a man who under dire circumstances doesn't give up hope to return home, a man who can see his wife waiting with open arms......but there's a kicker.

My kind of read. Very Edgar Allan Poe-ish. Excellent!

Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
September 23, 2017
Fabulously imaginative and creepy.

This was way, way ahead of it's time. Bierce was a masterful craftsman of the English language and here captured an idea, a concept that went on to influence scores of writers after him. I always think of the last sight of him, riding "ramrod straight" into Mexico never to be heard from again.

Want, need, to read more of his work, especially because Ray Bradbury seems to have been influenced so much by him.

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Profile Image for Peter.
2,623 reviews471 followers
April 30, 2019
Brilliant short story in three chapters. We read about the hanging of Peyton Farquhar, a rich planter, at Owl Creek Bridge. The American Civil War is going on and Peyton supports the South. A soldier of the Confederate army who plays a dubious role here sets Peyton in motion. The characters and the plot are classic and extremely well done. From every perspective you feel like being part of the narration. The description of the surrounding is incredible. Does Peyton survive the hanging and its aftermath? Do some bullets of the Yankee army find their target? An absolutely must read, a modern classic!
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews9,775 followers
October 9, 2015
In Asia, aphorism is a high art; there, the greatest of poems may be said in one breath. In the West, our greatest poems come in books numbered twelve, and only the greatest of men can remember the length of them.

However, we still maintain our aphorists, though often consider them as comical wits, would do well to remember the skill of indicating truth is with them. There is the poet, Nietzsche, who is also a philosopher and who summed up the goal of the aphorist well: "It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a whole book — what everyone else does not say in a whole book."

There is the politician, Disraeli, who found that ruling men meant understanding a plural and remarkable simplicity. There is the self-concerned wit Wilde, who told us that genius lies in misunderstanding and is so widely and unknowingly quoted that it is a cliche.

Speak what you will of Twain, but Bierce is America's entrant into the minute art. For his part, Vonnegut considered 'The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge' to be the single greatest short story of all Americans, and suggested anyone who hadn't read it was a 'twerp'.

The man who copies the Psalms onto a grain of rice has condensed space, but the author who places the depth of a novel into a short story has condensed meaning. The utterly deliberate and unfettered Owl Creek is a definitively superior work, for the same reason that the man who strikes the bull's eye with his arrow by chance is never the equal to the one that may do so at his leisure.

There is also an old French film which makes an excellent adaptation of this work, and which was once featured on the Twilight Zone, if that lends any notion of its quality.
Profile Image for kohey.
51 reviews193 followers
December 4, 2015
This story amazed me till the very end with beautiful and true-to-life descriptions.
It is almost for me an one-breath reading.
Profile Image for Rebbie.
142 reviews110 followers
September 24, 2017
You can read this tiny short story for free online, which is what I did as soon as I read Jeffrey's amazing review. Here it is:


I can't come close to writing as good of a review as he did, so I won't even try. But I will say that the descriptive prose in this short story is beyond anything I've ever read from the era in which it was written. No wonder people have kept this story alive!

If you've got a few minutes, give it a whirl. It makes for a good little Poe-esque tale.
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
617 reviews338 followers
April 10, 2017
A short story composed with prose at its best which can be read online at this link:

With his permission I include a link to Jeffrey Keeten’s excellent review because he wrote a good one so why should I bother. ☺︎ I agree with his suggestion to read the story, then a commentary to catch all the symbolism and metaphor which might be missed, then a second reading.

Further pursuits:

A link to commentary here:

Watch the 24 minute 1929 silent film version The Bridge here:

Watch a Twilight Zone film version titled Spur Of The Moment/An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge if you are a Hulu subscriber. It's the same movie as in the link above but with a Rod Serling introduction.

A link to a listing of films inspired by the story here:
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
April 17, 2020
A man is going to be hanged at Owl Creek Bridge in Ambrose Bierce's 1891 short story, which still manages to shock. You can find it online in many places, but here's a pdf of it:


The stark black and white original 1962 film can be seen here:


I can tell you almost nothing about it or the story would be ruined, but the humanity in this psychological horror story is rendered through the condemned man's desire to get home to his wife and family at any cost. An adventure ensues! Well worth a few minutes of your time. Especially if you are stuck at home and have fantasies of escape!
Profile Image for Sr3yas.
223 reviews997 followers
October 14, 2017
Apparently, your life doesn't flash before you as you die.

These sensations were unaccompanied by thought. The intellectual part of his nature was already effaced; he had power only to feel, and the feeling was torment.

In my opinion, it's not just the ending that makes it a spectacular short story, but the nonlinear presentation and internal struggles of our character.
Profile Image for Murray.
Author 152 books490 followers
May 19, 2023
This story absolutely shocked me at its denouement. I was not expecting what occurred at all. The first time I read it I was 11 or 12 and I had it in a graphic format. The drawings were striking as well. The final illustrations hit hard. Brilliant storyline🦉
Profile Image for Helga.
887 reviews128 followers
June 12, 2022

Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him.

This thought provoking story set during the American Civil War, portrays the feelings, thoughts and hallucinations of a man about to be hanged.

All is darkness and silence.

Ambrose Bierce, himself a Civil War veteran, addresses the ruthlessness of war, lack of appreciation for human life and the distortion of reality when looking death directly in the eyes.

You can find this story and other works by the author on https://www.gutenberg.org/ for free.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
January 30, 2020
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Ambrose Bierce

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1890) is a short story, by the American writer and Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce.

Peyton Farquhar, a civilian and plantation owner, is being prepared for execution by hanging from an Alabama railroad bridge during the American Civil War. Six military men and a company of infantrymen are present, guarding the bridge and carrying out the sentence. Farquhar thinks of his wife and children and is then distracted by a noise that, to him, sounds like an unbearably loud clanging; it is actually the ticking of his watch. He considers the possibility of jumping off the bridge and swimming to safety if he can free his tied hands, but the soldiers drop him from the bridge before he can act on the idea. ...

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز سی ام ماه ژانویه سال 2016 میلادی

عنوان: حادثه‌ ای در پل اوئل کریک؛ نویسنده: آمبروس بی یرس؛

نقل از متن داستان: «مردی روی پل آلابامای شمالی ایستاده، به آبی که بیست پا پایین‌تر به تندی جریان داشت، می‌نگریست. دست‌های او را از پشت با ریسمانی بسته بودند و حلقه سست طنابی گردن او را در میان گرفته بود، که از صلیب چوبی بزرگی در بالای سرش آویزان بود و دنبالهی آن تا زانوان مرد امتداد داشت چند تخته لق از تخته‌های زیر ریل‌ها که روی راه‌آهن گذاشته بودند جا پایی شده بود برای محکوم و اعدام‌ کنندگانش که عبارتند از دو سرباز ویژه ارتش فدرال و فرماندهی که امکان داشت سابقاً معاون کلانتر بوده باشد؛ به فاصله کمی از آن‌ها بر روی همان سکوی موقتی، افسری مسلح، که درجه سروانی داشت، در لباس نظامیش دیده می‌شد؛ در هر انتهای پل نگهبانی با تفنگش به حالتی که به آن «آماده باش» می‌گویند، ایستاده بود، یعنی تفنگ عمودی در مقابل شانه چپ، چخماق آن بر ساعد و ساعد بر روی سینه، حالت رسمی و غیرطبیعی که بدن را به حالت افراشته نگاه می‌دارد. ظاهراً وظیفه این دو مرد نبود که بدانند در وسط پل چه می‌گذرد با آن‌ها صرفاً دو انتهای تخته پاره‌ای را که تبدیل به جا پا شده بود، مسدود کرده بودند؛ در آن سوی ساحل کسی دیده نمی‌شد و راه‌آهن صد یارد مستقیم در جنگل پیش می‌رفت، بعد کج شده، از نظر ناپدید می‌گشت؛ بی‌شک کمی دورتر بر مسیر راه‌آهن؛ پاسگاهی قرار داشت. ساحل دیگر رود محوطه بازی بود و بر فراز شیب ملایم آن، به وسیله چند تنه درخت مانعی ایجاد کرده بودند که در آن‌ها سوراخ‌هایی برای لوله تفنگ تعبیه شده و لوله توپی که بر پل مسلط بود، از تنها مزغل آن بیرون زده بود. بین پل و این مانع، تماشاگران ایستاده بودند؛ عده‌ای سرباز پیاده در صف به حالت راحت‌باش نوک تفنگ‌ها بر زمین، لوله‌هایشان متمایل به عقب در مقابل شانه راست و دست‌ها صلیب‌وار بر قنداق؛ ستوانی در طرف راست صف ایستاده بود، نوک شمشیرش بر زمین و دست چپ او بر روی دست راستش، به استثنای گروه چهار نفری وسط پل، هیچکدام کوچکترین حرکتی نمیکردند؛ دسته، بی‌حرکت، چون سنگ روبه‌روی پل ایستاده، به صحنه اعدام چشم دوخته بودند؛ نگهبانان رو به دو ساحل رود مانند مجسمه‌ هایی بودند که برای زینت پل قرار داده شده‌ اند؛ ستوان دست به سینه، ساکت ایستاده، کار زیر دستانش را نگاه می‌کرد، ولی کاری انجام نمی‌داد؛ مرگ رویدادی شکوهمند است که وقتی با اطلاع قبلی برای انسان رخ می‌دهد باید با ادای احترامات رسمی استقبال شود، حتی به وسیله آن‌هایی که با آن خیلی آشنا هستند در آداب نظامی سکوت و بی‌حرکت بودن نشانه‌ های احترام هستند...؛»؛ پایان نقل ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Louie the Mustache Matos.
949 reviews67 followers
October 28, 2022
Ambrose Bierce was an American Civil War veteran, journalist, and prolific writer, clearly comfortable with the horrors of war. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is about a hanging that transpires there on that bridge between the North and the South, between the East and the West, on a bridge. Yeah! It's significant. This short story is usually chosen as his most famous and is usually included to represent his vast contribution to American Literature. It is especially significant to a horror fan like me because he has been placed in a subgenre of horror writers called the weird along with such strong established great contributors as H. P. Lovecraft, William Hope Hodgson, Fritz Leiber, M. R. James, Robert Bloch, and Algernon Blackwood. Because the story is so short (less than 35 pages) it is difficult to say much and not reveal the plot. I can say it fits in with my criteria for a classic: longevity (more than 50 years), exceptional (it has a gotcha ending that if you hadn't seen it emulated in the interim you might be shocked by), and paradigm shifting (when you read the ending you will say, oh so that's how that got started). Bierce was one of the first to employ those story devices and was quite skillful at the gothic horrors that made household names of writers like Poe, Bloch, and Lovecraft.
Profile Image for Fabian {Councillor}.
231 reviews476 followers
February 15, 2016
Short stories usually don't offer enough scope for development of characters, plot and atmosphere due to their limited length, so, in the majority of cases, they have to be pretty well-written in order to convince me of their literary significance and basic factors which may help me keep the story in mind.

"An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge" was extremely well-written. Upon first reading the story, it was mostly the atmosphere of the writing and the plot's main features which attracted my attention, but I didn't quite understand everything which was outlined during the short extent of the story. The cleverly devised and well-thought-out tale, divided into three parts as a structural device, is mostly revealed by rereading it, for Ambrose Bierce successfully tampers with his reader's expectations, exploring his protagonist's mind and developing an interesting background with roots in the American Civil War.

To me, Bierce's short story - the first, but certainly not the last work I've read from this author - will be remembered as being outstanding and thought-provoking, and thus I can with clear conscience recommend reading it if you're prepared for a fast, but not ordinary short story with connections to the American history.

"Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him. In the code of military etiquette silence and fixity are forms of deference."

Thanks to KOHEY.Y for bringing this fine work to my attention.
Profile Image for Praveen.
152 reviews281 followers
June 23, 2022
This one was like Poe, was like Maupassant, was like Bradbury!
I don't know who influenced whom? I can't help, as I read these authors in this order only.

But with this first story of Ambrose, I got one more egg and I am ready to make a basket, and I 'll put four classic eggs in them, like ostrich eggs, and there will hang a tag on the basket, "Hallucinatory Prose"!

This story was the perfect example of this hallucinatory prose which I recently witnessed in a Ben Okri collection too. Yes, Ben Okri is the fifth egg, I am looking for more eggs, my basket is big enough!

A man is being executed over a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, his wrists tied behind his back with rope, another rope encircled his neck, and two soldiers of the Federal army are his executioners. He was hung from the bridge, the rope broke off and he falls into the stream. He saves himself with such a valiant effort and reaches home, and sees his wife smile with ineffable joy. Really?

An amazing read for me this evening! This writing created a sublime frenzy!
June 7, 2021
This haunting short story left a strong impression on me. I read it two months ago and it still resonates. For anyone interested, here is a gutenberg link to the story.

Ambrose Bierce, a landsman hailing from Ohio, was a Civil War veteran who wrote short stories, journals and poetry in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. I wonder how I grew up in Ohio and majored in English, yet only read this prolific highly regarded author for the very first time after reading reviews written by my fellow GR Friends!

This story takes place during the Civil War. A Southern Secessionist gentleman, Peyton Farquhar, eager to do his bit for the war effort, is entrapped after plotting to set the Owl Creek Bridge on fire. Destroying the bridge with intent to thwart the Unionists, was an offense punishable by death and we meet our protagonist as he stands on the bridge with a noose around his neck and his hands tied behind his back, surrounded by a squad of Union soldiers, intent on quickly dispensing kangaroo court justice.

We listen to our character as he describes his thoughts and follow him in his escape as he plunges into the surging river rapids below, somehow managing to free his hands and escape the shrieking bullets being fired and smacking the water all around him. He swims to shore and begins his long trek home to his family while being chased by the Union soldiers. As he races through the forest, he finally sees the gate of his home; his wife and children come rushing out to embrace him….and then comes the twist….(sorry about that).

I loved that this story felt real and focused, an almost journalistic description of an event, with an unexpected outcome disclosed in the very last sentence.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,935 reviews3,404 followers
April 2, 2017
Ambrose Bierce is a name known to many. This most famous work, no doubt, is The Devil's Dictionary. He is known for having had a sardonic view of humans and their nature and for having a "nothing matters" attitude. In short: he must have been quite a bitter person. In 1913, he supposedly traveled to Mexico to gain a firsthand perspective on the country's ongoing revolution, but disappeared without a trace in December of the same year.

This short story is an interesting one, considering the author. It's about a plantation owner of the American South during the war. The story starts with him getting hanged - apparently for sabotaging a bridge so the Northern soldiers couldn't use it. The author then goes on to explain different sensations of dying, and describing the nature around Owl Creek Bridge and even how the hanged man came to have the idea of sabotaging the bridge in the first place.

The strength of the writing definitely lies with the vivid descriptions. Funnily enough, if one looks closely, the author actually did give both the hanged man and the soldiers hanging him not too good a characterisation.

It's well written, with a sort of romanticism about the place but not the people, again making the point of how pointless human actions actually are. I would call this an American classic even, an example of the time it was written in and the period it was about.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,494 reviews962 followers
June 21, 2012
I'm glad I didn't read any reviews before trying this short story. Very effective storytelling, a bit on the short side but it does what it sets out to do: explores a situation that many readers are curious about, but surely would do anything in their power to avoid experiencing at first hand. Namely, a hanging.
Like all good short stories, there's also a twist at the end that throws a new light on the preceding pages.

I think that's enough commentary for a title where the Gutenberg licence is longer and more verbose than the actual text.
Profile Image for Moha Dem.
165 reviews57 followers
September 21, 2021
When someone is about to get hanged, all things come back to him, his life, the people he knew, everything ... But sometimes other things can happen too, a great plot to a well-written story.
Profile Image for Sam.
98 reviews9 followers
August 19, 2019
20 minutes of exhilarating narration that left me saying

I knew it

but I doubted myself until the very end. That’s successful writing in my opinion. American Civil War fiction usually doesn’t interest me, but I really liked this.
Profile Image for Katy.
292 reviews
April 5, 2019
A short but exquisitely written story. A truly great American adventure that takes place during the Civil War era. A lovely and lively distortion of reality...or is it?
This is really a must read.
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