Distorted Sensory Experience

As Farquhar faces death, he slips not only outside time but also outside his physical body. He is reduced to a network of raw, inaccurate sensory impressions, which allow him to create his fantasy of escape. Farquhar’s distorted sensory impressions reveal the widening gap between reality and illusion. For example, Farquhar notes a gap between the sound of the cannon firing and the arrival of the shot. Similarly, he believes he can see the gray eye of the marksman through the rifle sights. The unrealistic, imagined realm he enters in the third section of the story is indicated through these increasingly chaotic and unreliable impressions. Churning in the eddies, Farquhar’s distorted vision, in which the landscape is transformed into a series of swirling colored horizontal bands, suggests not only the lack of sound judgment Farquhar displayed in ending up in this predicament in the first place but also the distortion of reality that Bierce skillfully portrays.

The Color Gray

The color gray appears throughout the story, suggesting the vague color lines dividing friend from foe as well as the clouded sense of reality in the final section of the story. Gray indicates the Confederacy and thus the cause to which Farquhar foolishly sacrifices himself, and the “gray clad” rider approaches Farquhar and his wife in the second section. However, the color gray is a misleading indication of the rider’s affiliation, as he is only pretending to be a Confederate soldier. In this sense, the color gray indicates a distortion of the truth—the soldier is actually a Northern scout disguised in the enemy’s colors. When Farquhar begins his fantasized escape, he operates under a gloomy gray sky. Gray is the color of Farquhar’s eyes as well as the eyes of the sentinel who takes aim at him from the bridge. Farquhar recalls reading that the most famous marksmen, and thus those with the keenest eyesight, had gray eyes, and he can see the sentinel glaring ominously at him through the rifle’s sights. This seemingly paranoid detail, impossible to actually see from such a distance, establishes a link between Farquhar and the man who is apparently attempting to kill him. At that moment, the distinctions separating North from South, aggressor from victim, and ally from enemy are collapsed, as Farquhar slips deeper into his fantasy realm.

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