Driftwood, as it makes its way downriver, represents both Farquhar’s unattainable freedom and Farquhar himself as he begins imagining his own escape in the water. At first, the driftwood distracts Farquhar from thoughts of his wife and children. Later, it becomes an extension of Farquhar himself, as Farquhar imagines floating in the water as though he is driftwood. The driftwood also indicates Farquhar’s distorted sense of time. As he looks down, he sees the water “racing madly” beneath him, then sees the “dancing” driftwood. He is struck by how slowly it seems to be moving in the suddenly “sluggish” stream. This abrupt change in his perception marks Farquhar’s transition from reality to fantasy. From then on, he takes liberties with the details of his own story and supplies the ending he desires: a brave escape rather than an execution for being a war criminal. Ironically, although he envisions himself as driftwood of sorts, it is driftwood that led to his capture in the first place. When Farquhar initially encounters the undercover Northern scout, the scout advises Farquhar to set fire to the pieces of wood that the winter flood swept to the base of the bridge. The driftwood thus serves as his means of undoing just as it ultimately represents an unattainable freedom.
The Owl Creek bridge suggests connection and transition. Confederate forces or sympathizers had presumably destroyed the bridge in an attempt to prevent the North from advancing deeper into enemy territory. With the important artery restored by Union forces, the North’s war effort once again gained momentum in northern Alabama, ushering in the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy and bringing an end to the Civil War. Ironically, the target of Farquhar’s sabotage attempt becomes the platform on which his execution is staged. By sabotaging the bridge, Farquhar was attempting to erode order and connection, just as he erodes order by fantasizing, in the final moments of his life, about disconnecting himself from his physical body. The bridge serves as an intermediary space, joining the creek’s opposite banks—it is neither one side nor the other, but a connection between them. Similarly, the bridge joins life and death for Farquhar. As Farquhar “escapes” into the water, the bridge suggests a transitional psychological space between fantasy and reality.