War. There are few words in the English language that evoke such deep-rooted feelings. Some people see the word war and immediately associate it with hate, destruction and fear; to some, however, this word is so much more. It represents a means to a new beginning, a fresh frontier where power and everlasting glory can be attained. It is a powerful force that allows men of courage to rise up and ascend to the heights of power.
In the story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Ambrose Bierce tells the story of Peyton Farquhar, a well-to-do farmer living in Alabama during the American Civil War.
Unable to aid the South due to undisclosed circumstances, Farquhar is advised by an incognito federal scout to intercept the railway; he readily complies. The story then becomes one of fantasy and escape that ends with Farquhar hanging by a rope from Owl Creek Bridge. It seems puzzling that a man as well off as Peyton Farquhar would sacrifice himself for something as trivial as a railway, yet we see this scenario played out many times throughout history.
Napoleon Bonaparte is a good example. Napoleon was a French military leader during the latter part of the French Revolution. Born into a noble family in 1796, Napoleon was trained as an artillery officer in mainland France.
During that time in France, the position of artillery officer was very noble; it was a job that was highly sought after. However, the great Napoleon Bonaparte wanted more; he sought out the grand life of a battle soldier on the front lines.
In 1799, after two successful campaigns against the First and Second Coalitions against France, Napoleon staged a coup d’état and installed himself as First Consul; five years later he was appointed emperor. Napoleon had one dream: attaining glory and power. Growing up in a noble family, Napoleon would have had little chance of attaining such a position within the militaristic government of France. However, through the use of sheer cunning in war, Napoleon was able to catapult himself to the pinnacle of French society.
In Peyton Farquhar’s case, we see a similar yearning for glory and honor. We see how upset Farquhar is when he cannot serve in the military: “He chafed under the inglorious restraint, longing for the release of his energies, the larger life of the soldier, the opportunity for distinction”. This glorious life of an army soldier hangs in front of Farquhar until he can’t help but leave his comfortable lifestyle and leap toward the ominous trap that the scout had set for him, the same trap that eventually breaks his neck.