Study Guide

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Death

By Ambrose Bierce


What separates life from death? Minutes? Seconds? Our minds? "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" doesn't give us a definitive answer, but it does complicate and explore issues of consciousness, awareness, dying, and the afterlife. Anyone who finishes reading the story knows that Farquhar is dead. But they also know that he seemed to do a great deal of living in the seconds between hanging and death. Overall, the theme of death is deeply related to that of time and versions of reality in this story, because the experience of the separation between life and death is super subjective for Farquhar.

Questions About Death

  1. How is Bierce's description of Farquhar's life different from his description of Farquhar's death?
  2. Bierce calls death a "dignitary" (1.2). A dignitary is someone with a high rank or an important political office. Why and how is death a dignitary?
  3. Does the knowledge that Farquhar is dead all along change your reading of the story?

Chew on This

Death and life are very separated from each other. It is only Farquhar's imagination that connects them.

Life and death are very closely linked, and Farquhar's death proves how easy it is to mistake one for the other.