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Bridge to Terabithia

Katherine Paterson

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Jess Aarons

Jess is the principal character of Bridge to Terabithia. The story is told through his eyes, though not in his voice, and thus we are given a deeper glimpse at his soul and motivations than those of anyone else in the book. Jess sees himself as a very ordinary boy, at least until Leslie comes along. He is unable to identify those characteristics that distinguish him from the rest because he is constantly in conflict with the various facets of his life. He has several distinct roles that those around him expect him to play. His family expects him to be the dutiful son and brother, and his own personality often seems to be less important to them than his ability to get the chores done. His father, in particular, expects him to be a "young man," to look at the world from an adult and distinctly masculine perspective. Jess's personal passions and skills, such as art, are to be discouraged if they do not help him fit into this role. The students at school likewise expect him to conform, to throw himself wholeheartedly into pursuits such as sports. Amid all this, the only thing Jess can grasp that fulfills his expected responsibilities from all these people and which fulfills him personally is running, and he seizes on this fanatically, determined to distinguish himself as the fastest runner in the fifth grade. This, he feels, will free him from what he feels to be his curse of ordinariness, and will make him into a person that both he and everyone else can accept.

However, when Leslie comes along, we are allowed to see the true Jess shining through the poorly constructed mask of conformity. His artistic talent is the main tangible thing that distinguishes him from the rest, and Leslie nurtures this through encouragement and a gift of an expensive paint set. However, the importance of this talent pales beside the personal qualities Jess is finally allowing himself to acknowledge. He has the sensitivity and kindness that would probably be at odds with the "tough guy" image everyone seems to want him to project. He coddles his younger sister and even convinces Leslie to help the school bully, who has caused him and everyone else in the school untold annoyance and fear, when he finds out that she's crying in the bathroom. He is possessed of a sharp intelligence which he is able to put to use for the first time when confronted with the intellectual stimulation that Leslie provides, through her books and her imagination. Through his friendship with Leslie, Jess truly manages to find himself. But he is not simply dependent on her for this newfound sense of self; when she dies, he eventually finds that he can carry on and continue in the path of personal growth she has helped him to find. Jess is a thoroughly admirable boy on his way to becoming a man, and the story of his growth is the kernel of Bridge to Terabithia.

Leslie Burke

Leslie moves to Lark Creek at the beginning of her and Jess's fifth-grade year, and she stands out in shining contrast to the rest of the students. Her parents are highly educated, intellectual, affluent, and liberal, and they have exposed her to the wider world in a way that none of the students at Lark Creek have ever imagined. Leslie is full to the brim with imagination, creativity, mischief, and fun. A voracious reader with a keen sense of intellectual curiosity, she is the one who comes up with the idea of Terabithia. She immediately senses the potential in Jess and the two become fast friends, and it is she who draws Jess out of the socially constructed shell that has constrained him for his whole life.

Leslie is also kind personally and emotionally. Unlike Jess, whose parents give the appearance of being too busy and careworn to devote much excess energy to raising their children, Leslie's parents—though not always, perhaps, the absolute most attentive parents in the world at all times—have nevertheless always had time for her when she's really needed them, and have given their best to bringing her up to make them proud. Under this wholesome influence Leslie has become an extraordinary child. Most of the students at Lark Creek, with their unerring instinct for absolute conformity, do not care much for her because she is so different, but she proves to be the perfect friend for Jess.

Leslie often gives the impression of being absolutely fearless, which Jess at once admires and finds intimidating. Jess has become convinced throughout his life that a truly admirable person is never scared of anything, and Leslie's apparently dauntless nature rubs on a sore spot in Jess's soul, for he wishes he could be the same way. However, as we see at the end of the novel, Leslie's fearlessness ultimately is her tragic downfall. Jess had berated himself many times for being afraid to swing across the creek when it was high, but then the rope breaks while Leslie is swinging and she falls to her death. Thus one of her most admirable characteristics is proven to be less than perfect.

Miss Edmunds

Miss Edmunds is the only person, before Leslie, who ever encouraged Jess to explore his true nature and to escape the mindless conformity of Lark Creek Elementary, by nourishing his artistic talent and assuring him that he has a "neat kid." Like Leslie, Miss Edmunds is sorely out of place in Lark Creek. She bears a passing resemblance to Leslie's parents, in her liberal worldview and "hippie" characteristics. For this reason, she is almost universally distrusted at the school. But even so, there is an undeniable appeal about this slim, attractive young music teacher that even the most hardened students cannot deny. Her status as a music teacher is appropriate, purveyor of the aesthetic arts rather than staid grammar and arithmetic. The rest of the school seems dedicated exclusively to the health of the mind and Miss Edmunds provides some much-needed food for the soul.

Jess is deeply infatuated with Miss Edmunds. His crush on her is proof that he longs for something more than the narrow world of Lark Creek, that he senses that there is a beauty and vibrancy to the world that he is never been privy to in his world of grinding poverty and severely limited outlook. There is a freshness about her that is like a breath of fragrant air in the stale atmosphere of this rural community. Most of the students distrust this, but Jess is greatly impressed by it. Miss Edmunds is a symbol of the beauty and freedom that are possible in the world, and Jess is entranced by the idea and the emotions she stirs in him.

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Chapter 1

by Jess2016, September 21, 2012

Jesse just started school again and is not happy........

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9 out of 45 people found this helpful

The Great Race!!

by Jess2016, September 28, 2012

Jess is beat by leaslie and feels imbarased about it.

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9 out of 31 people found this helpful

ch 2

by batman123567, April 15, 2013

Leslie makes a bad commait about jess whille he is running

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10 out of 12 people found this helpful

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