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Ambrose Bierce - An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge Essay

Below you will find three outstanding thesis statements for “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1 : Analysis of the Narrator in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"

Although a cursory read of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" often involves close attention to the dream escape of Peyton Farquhar and the plot of this Ambrose Bierce story, one of the more striking elements of the tale is the cold and distant narrator who relates, with icy distance, the scene before him in meticulous and often, what may seem like unnecessary detail. This highly distanced narrator in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" creates a sense of distance for the reader as well and by the end of the story, when it is clear that Farquhar is dead, the ending is all the more shocking because the narrator sets himself as being highly credible for real events because of his precision with the beginning details and exact descriptions. In short, for this essay on “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce, examine the narrator as a developer of reader trust in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek" and examine the way in which he or she lends to the shock of the ending via narrative techniques.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2 : Reliability & Realism in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce

One of the strange paradoxes concerning “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce is its strong and disconcerting blending of genres. On the surface and, in fact, for the first-time reader of the story, until the end this seems like a quintessential work of realism but in fact, as the conclusion reveals, it is anything but realism; it is more surrealism as it is discovered that this was an elaborate dream. This blend of realism and the surreal in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" serves the function of forcing the reader to call into question the reliability of the narrator and more importantly, in a broader sense, asks us to consider what we expect from fiction. If we expect truth, we are rewarded by meticulous attention to detail and descriptions that transport us to this place, but if we do not expect truth from fiction, then in some ways, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" can make readers feel cheated into believing in the literary convention of realism only to find later that expectations were subverted.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3 : The Sense of Time in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"

Time in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is a mutable element and is also one of the most important markers in the text to signal to the reader what is happening and how it should be perceived. Time in the larger sense, in this case in terms of history, is important because it creates the setting of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" within a specific point in historical time—a point that that the plot of this story by Ambrose Bierce relies on because of its content. On a more minute level, the function of time in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" both defines the story as surreal and realist because it describes things in exact detail, taking many paragraphs to relate a single second. Thus, with the exception of historical time, time itself is something that is not real but only perceived by the characters and for the reader, it is even more disorienting because it turns out that all of the long description and events that should have taken a great deal of time occur within the singularity of a thought; a small moment in time. For this essay on time in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek" consider what role time, both historical and real, plays and how it serves to heighten the dramatic and surprising effect of the conclusion of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce. For a more challenging essay topic or thesis statement on “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" consider how the realism and surrealism elements are created through the manipulation of time in the story.

This list of important quotations from “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce above, these quotes alone with page numbers can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way.

“Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is 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"

“As these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the doomed man’s brain rather than evolved from it the captain nodded to the sergeant. The sergeant stepped aside"

“He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed, preternaturally keen and alert. Something in the awful disturbance of his organic system had so exalted and refuned them they made record of things never before perceived"

“A rising sheet of water curved over him, fell down upon him, blinded him, strangled him! The canon had taken a hand in the game"

“All that day he traveled, laying his course by the rising 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"

“As he is about to clasp her [his wife] he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a blinding white light blazes all around him with a sound like the shock of a cannon—then all is darkness and silence"


The ending of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” has drawn many reactions from critics. Some believe the ending is contrived and more appropriate for a thriller, suspense, or mystery tale than for a literary work. Others see the ending as Bierce’s attempt to transform the traditional conventions of narration. The story of Farquhar’s execution, like a traditional story, follows a logical order: from introduction to development to conclusion. Bierce’s “trick” is that the conclusion is not what it seems. Although the story does not end after the first section, Farquhar’s life does, extended for a few agonizing seconds as he swings from the end of the rope. By adding the third section, Bierce calls into question the essential nature of a story’s resolution. Endings, his story reveals, can often be unresolved or manipulated. They do not always have to be tidy, as they often are in more traditional prose.

Bierce’s innovations in the story’s structure reveal his unique understanding of plot. For Bierce, competing versions of the truth can exist within the same story. The third section takes us into Farquhar’s interior life, marking a departure from the more objective tone in the story’s first section. In making this shift, Bierce shows that a short story can portray both internal and external points of view. Bierce also has a unique understanding of the way time can be used in a story. The first two sections occur in real time, whereas the final part plays out over just a few moments—in the time it takes for Farquhar to die from his violent plunge from the bridge—although it seems to Farquhar to take place during the course of the next day. Bierce’s greatest innovation comes in the way the seemingly consistent, seamless surface of his story nearly hides the competing versions of reality.