An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
by Ambrose Bierce
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Time, it seems, is not on Farquhar's side. He's out of time when the story begins, his watch ticking down the seconds to his death. The jig, as they say, was up before it began – Farquhar's plan to burn down the bridge was pre-planned by a Federal scout.
The strange flow of time throughout the narrative only highlights this point. The narrator takes us back and forth between the present and the past. In fact, it is only after Farquhar falls through the bridge that we learn his name and what led him to his execution. This non-linear flow of time reflects Farquhar's lack of control over the course of events.
Farquhar's lack of control over time and the limited time left in his life are very evident in his reaction to the ticking of his watch. The watch ticks off the seconds left in Farquhar's life like a "death knell" (1.5), a bell rung to announce that someone has died. As he hears his watch ticking, he knows he can't control the time that is passing. Instead, his mind creates an alternative reality, one in which he escapes.
One last note on time: if you think about it, most of this story takes place over the course of just a few seconds – an interesting and challenging narrative technique, we'd say.