"Jess drew the way some people drank whiskey. The peace would start at the top of his muddled brain and seep down through his tired and tensed-up body. Lord, he loved to draw. Animals, mostly. Not regular animals like Miss Bessie and the chickens, but crazy animals with problems—for some reason he liked to put his beasts into impossible fixes He would like to show his drawings to his dad, but he didn't dare. When he was in first grade, he told his father than he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. He'd thought he would be pleased. He wasn't. 'What are they teaching in that damn school?' he had asked. 'Bunch of old ladies turning my son into some kind of a—' He had stopped on the word, but Jess had gotten the message. It was one you didn't forget, even after four years."
This passage comes near the beginning of Chapter 2, before we ever meet Leslie, when we're just getting to know Jess. Jess's artistry is one of the key factors in his character: it is one thing that distinguishes him throughout, which makes it clear that he is special. Yet, despite the fact that it is his passion, he receives very little support from anyone; his father, in particular, as is evidenced by the above quote, is disdainful of such a "non-masculine" pursuit and would like him to simply eliminate that passion from his heart. This is probably why Jess likes to draw animals in "impossible fixes." It is a reflection of his own hopelessly conflicted heart when it comes to the subject of art. By putting his worries down on paper and then putting a humorous twist on them, he is attempting to work out his own anxiety and put it into perspective. A love and skill for art are born in him, an inextricable part of who he is; he could no more change it than he could change the color of his hair. His family's attempts, conscious and unconscious, to repress this symbolize a much larger issue, their myriad demands of conformity in so many aspects of his life. Jess's struggle to find himself against the current of his family's expectations of him are crystallized in the above passage.
"He believed her because here in the shadowy light of the stronghold everything seemed possible. Between the two of them they owned the world and no enemy, Gary Fulcher, Wanda Kay Moore, Janice Avery, Jess's own fears and insufficiencies, nor any of the foes whom Leslie imagined attacking Terabithia, could ever really defeat them."
This quote comes in Chapter 4, just after they have finished building their castle stronghold in Terabithia, the first day that they have conceived of the game. It describes the sense of belonging that Jess feels in this newfound kingdom, where he and Leslie rule supreme, idealized and undefeatable and immortal. He sees it as a perfect escape from harsh reality and not just externals like school enemies, but also his own self-doubts and fears. It offers a ray of hope which he sorely needs as he struggles to make the transition between childhood and adulthood in a way that will please everybody. In Terabithia, he lives by his own standards and according to his own impulses and personality. There, he feels himself to be the person he is struggling to grow into.
"I know Leslie. I know she's not going to bite my head off or make fun of me if I say I don't want to go over again till the creek's down. All I gotta do is say 'Leslie, I don't wanta go over there today.' Just like that. Easy as pie. 'Leslie, I don't wanta go over there today.' 'How come?' 'How come. Because, because, well because '"
This quote, which occurs in Chapter 10, summarizes Jess's fear of swinging across the creek to Terabithia after a week of rain when the creek is high. He has always been afraid of the water and of drowning, and with the creek overflowing its banks, he is terrified to swing across it. Jess detests himself for this fear, even as he strives to tell himself that it is not that terrible of a thing and that Leslie will not judge him the way he judges himself. In the above quotation, he recognizes that his reluctance to tell Leslie of his fears is completely out of proportion, and that Leslie will understand. However, he is so ashamed of his fear that he cannot bring himself to speak. He sees fear as something totally shameful, a betrayal of the strong king of Terabithia who is his alter ego. He does not realize sufficiently, at this point, that everyone has fears and that they are a normal. This disgust with himself for his fears torments him through most of the novel. It is not till the very end that he's able to make peace with his fears.
"He screamed something without words and flung the papers and paints into the dirty brown water He watched them all disappear. Gradually his breath quieted, and his heart slowed from its wild pace. The ground was still muddy from the rains, but he sat down anyway. There was nowhere to go. Nowhere. Ever again. He put his head down on one knee. "'That was a damn fool thing to do.' His father sat down on the dirt beside him. "'I don't care. I don't care.' He was crying now, crying so hard he could barely breathe. "His father pulled Jess over on his lap as if he were Joyce Ann. 'There. There," he said, patting his head. 'Shhh. Shhh.'"
This scene comes in Chapter 12, the day after Leslie has died, when Jess is just beginning to allow himself to feel his anger and grief. In throwing away the paint set, he is not only throwing away a reminder of Leslie, he is throwing away a part of himself as well, an acknowledgment of his artistic talent and calling. He feels that he is lost the best part of himself with Leslie. His father, on the other hand, reverses all his paternal insufficiencies that plague him and Jess through the rest of the book. Mr. Aarons has always been a little awkward around his son, undemonstrative and expectant. As mentioned before, he never approved of Jess's artistic leanings. Now, by telling Jess that throwing away the art set was a "damn fool thing to do," he is announcing that he has come to accept that part of Jess, and that Jess's attempt to deny it is foolish and unnecessary. One suspects that before now, if Jess had voluntarily thrown away his paint set, his father would have been pleased. Now he seems to realize that it is simply a part of Jess, which cannot be denied and should not to be denied. And when he takes Jess in his arms "as if he were Joyce Ann," he at last makes up for all the years when he maintained a distance from Jess, believing that a young man didn't need cuddling and coddling. In this time of crisis, Jess's father is shown to be an admirable one, and the suddenly solid relationship between them helps Jess to heal.
"It was Leslie who had taken him from the cow pasture into Terabithia and turned him into a king. He had thought that was it. Wasn't king the best you could be? Now it occurred to him that perhaps Terabithia was like a castle where you came to be knighted. After you stayed for a while and grew strong you had to move on. For hadn't Leslie, even in Terabithia, tried to push back the walls of his mind and make him see beyond to the shining world—huge and terrible and beautiful and very fragile? (Handle with care—everything—even the predators.) "Now it was time for him to move out. She wasn't there, so he must go for both of them. It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength. "As for the terrors ahead—for he did not fool himself that they were all behind him—well, you just have to stand up to your fear and not let it squeeze you white. Right, Leslie? "Right."
This passage, which occurs in Chapter 13, just a few pages from the end of the book, signifies Jess's having made his peace with Leslie's death, and having come to some new realizations about himself in the process. Terabithia is essentially a symbol of idealized childhood, and even the most perfect childhood must give way to adulthood sooner or later. Similarly, the most beautiful fantasyland can never really replace true reality. It has its place, but that place is meant to last for a season only. Jess resolves that he will go on living in the bigger world, and that Leslie's memory will strengthen him in his quest to make his life one worth living. Significantly, Jess does not say that he is going to pass on the vision and strength that are Leslie's legacy to him. Instead, he will distribute beauty and caring, his own unique gifts. This reinforces that Jess is not simply a carbon copy of Leslie, but that his talents and virtues are his own and separate from hers.
The last section of the quote, where he accepts that he will always have fears to face, and that all he can hope to do is face them bravely, and not eliminate them, is one of the most important in the book. Jess has struggled with self- hatred because of his fears through the entire novel. Now he has finally reached the realization that being afraid is not such a terrible thing, and that the best anyone can do is simply try to manage their fears and not let them get out of hand. Paradoxically, Leslie's death has set a few demons to rest for Jess, demonstrating that hardship has shaped him into a stronger person.
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