An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge: Summary & Setting

An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge: Summary & Setting
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  • 0:01 Definition of Frame Stories
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Suzanne Sweat

Suzanne has taught 12 years in the NC Public School System and three years at Campbell University. She has a master's degree in English Education.

The fictional short story 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge' recounts the events leading up to and immediately following the hanging of a Confederate sympathizer by the Union Army. Complete the lesson to find out what happened and if he survives.

Definition of Frame Stories

Have you ever daydreamed that you did something you didn't actually do? I remember buying a lottery ticket once and daydreaming about all the things I would do with the money, only to find my hopes of being a millionaire dashed as I scratched off the last of the non-matching numbers. These daydreams are similar to frame stories. In daydreams, your life is the real story, but inside that story you can use some wishful thinking to imagine all the possibilities of a situation through a daydream—a story of its own. Frame stories are a story-within-a-story device used in writing and are similar to this.

In the frame story 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,' Peyton Farquhar finds himself in a situation no one wants. And as a result of wishful thinking, lack of oxygen, or a combination of both, he creates a different story for himself.

Summary of 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge'

'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge' by Ambrose Bierce is a famous short story set during the Civil War that utilizes the frame story technique. 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge' was Amborse Bierce's most famous writing. The narration is divided into three sections. The first section is written in present tense, suggesting it is the current event. The second section acts as a flashback to provide information leading up the present situation. The final section contains the frame story which, as you should recall, is a story within a story.

Part One:

Union soldiers are standing on a railroad bridge with a man dressed in civilian clothes. The man has a noose around his neck and stands precariously on a plank of wood dangling over the bridge, with only the weight of one soldier keeping the man from tumbling over. It is obvious that he is about to be hanged. While the man awaits the signal from the captain, his thoughts begin to drift to his family, and even to the possibility of escape. Infantrymen stand near a fort close to the edge of the river below, just in case an escape is attempted.

Part Two:

Finally, we discover that the man being executed is Peyton Farquhar, a southern plantation owner who wants to support the Confederate army but is not a soldier. As part of the flashback, the narrator shares the story of a day when a man in a gray uniform (supposedly a Confederate soldier) stops by Farquhar's home looking for a drink of water. As Farquhar's wife fetches the man a cup, Farquhar asks the soldier how the war is going. The man says that the Union Army is advancing by rebuilding railroads, and they have recently finished the railroad on the bridge that goes over Owl Creek. He also informs Farquhar that anyone caught tampering with the railroad will be hanged.

Farquhar wants to know how he can help prevent the Union from advancing. The soldier reveals that a pile of wood has accumulated near the bridge as a result of recent floods, and that the driftwood could easily be set on fire, thus destroying the bridge. After drinking his water, the man rides off. Later, however, the soldier is seen riding north, revealing his ties to the Union Army instead of the Confederacy.

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