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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge


by Ambrose Bierce

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Part 3 Summary

  • The third part of the story brings us back to the present. Farquhar falls through the railroad ties of the bridge and loses consciousness on the way down.
  • He wakes up a while later (it's unclear how much time has passed), brought back to consciousness by horrible pain in his throat and the feeling of asphyxiation (basically, he can't breathe – hangings tend to do that to people).
  • We're guessing that Bierce hadn't ever been hanged, but he provides an interesting description explaining the sensation (read the first paragraph of Part 3 – you'll probably agree with us). Pain shoots through Farquhar's body, pulsing rapidly. His head is congested and he is unable to think. He feels as though he's moving within a cloud of light.
  • Suddenly, the light shoots upward, Farquhar hears roaring, and everything goes dark.
  • When Farquhar is able to think again, he realizes that the rope has broken and that he has ended up in the creek.
  • Because the rope around his neck is blocking the passage, water can't enter Farquhar's lungs (thank goodness for small blessings).
  • Farquhar sees light above him, and, as it brightens, he realizes that he is rising to the surface. Martha Stewart would call this a "good thing," but Farquhar is somewhat reluctant to emerge from the water. Hanging and then drowning is one thing, but hanging and then getting shot just isn't fair. His words, not ours.
  • Without even realizing he's doing it, Farquhar begins to free his hands. Like a spectator at a sporting event, he watches as his hands remove both the rope that binds them and the noose around his neck. Impressive.
  • Removing a noose seems like a good thing, but it causes Farquhar horrible pain. Still, instead of listening to his brain's command to put the noose back on, Farquhar's arms propel his head above the surface of the water.
  • Farquhar's perilous underwater journey has heightened his senses. He is suddenly completely aware of everything around him and he begins to observe the natural world very carefully.
  • Turning around in the water, Farquhar sees the bridge and the group of soldiers standing on it. Uh-oh.
  • The soldiers shout and point, and the captain draws his pistol.
  • Farquhar hears a bullet being fired and watches as it hits the water near his head. Then one of the sentinels shoots and misses with a rifle.
  • It's not over: as Farquhar turns toward the opposite shore, he hears the lieutenant issuing commands and instructing his men to fire. This can't be good.
  • Hoping to escape the bullets, Farquhar dives beneath the water. As he rises to the surface, he notices flattened bullets floating near him. (According to the Mythbusters, water stops bullets.)
  • Upon rising to the surface, Farquhar realizes he has made some progress. He's farther away from the soldiers, who have almost finished reloading. The two sentinels shoot and miss.
  • Farquhar swims with the current, thinking as quickly as he swims. He realizes the lieutenant won't continue to order his men to fire their guns together again, since a volley (a bunch of bullets fired at the same time) isn't any more effective than firing single shots. Farquhar panics, since he knows he won't be able to dodge all of the random shots.
  • Suddenly, he feels a huge splash, followed by a loud sound and a wave of water. The soldiers are using a cannon.
  • Farquhar figures that they won't use the cannon again, but will instead use grapeshot.
  • Time for an Ammunition Not-So-Fun Fact: Grapeshot was the name for a canister containing metal balls, a weapon widely used during the Civil War. When shot from a barrel, the canister would fall apart and the balls would fire in all directions. Used against advancing enemies, grapeshot was devastating and caused a lot of damage.
  • Swimming for his life, Farquhar fears that he won't be able to tell when the grapeshot is fired. While worrying about this new threat, he swims into a vortex (like a whirlpool) and is whirled around (like a record, baby, right round round round).
  • The vortex flings Farquhar onto the south bank of the creek, kindly depositing him in a place that that blocks him from the Federals' view.
  • Crying tears of happiness (he made it!), Farquhar throws sand up into the air and quickly becomes entranced by the beautiful trees along the shore.
  • When Farquhar hears grapeshot fired above his head, he realizes he needs to move on, so he scrambles up the bank and enters the forest.
  • He travels all day through the forest, following the sun. He marvels at the size and wildness of the forest he thought he knew so well. He's kind of lost his focus.
  • By nighttime, he is tired and hungry. Thinking of his wife and children, he presses on and finds a familiar road.
  • The road shows no sign of human beings, and the constellations above are unfamiliar. Farquhar hears strange noises and words whispered in a language he doesn't know.
  • Feeling horrible pain in his neck, Farquhar reaches up to discover that it is extremely swollen. His eyes are congested and his tongue is swollen, too.
  • In the second-to-last paragraph of the story, the verb tense shifts to the present and the narrator describes what Farquhar sees as he finally approaches at the gate of his property.
  • Farquhar opens his gate and watches as his wife comes to greet him. He has made it all the way home. As he moves toward her, he feels a horrible blow against his neck. White light surrounds him and then everything goes dark.
  • The narrator returns to the past tense for the final sentence of the story, just to inform us that Farquhar is dead. His neck is broken and his body hangs from a rope attached to Owl Creek Bridge.

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