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Jess finishes the chores with his mother. Today she has been canning beans, and the resultant heat from all the boiling has put her in a terrible mood and worn Jess out. He makes dinner for his little sisters, and then stretches out to draw for a little while. Jess, we find, has both a talent and a passion for art, a talent which nobody appreciates except for the music teacher at school, Miss Edmunds. Jess is deeply in puppy love with Miss Edmunds. She is like a breath of fresh air to him in the squalid atmosphere of his school, Lark Creek Elementary, which is very much like an extension of his home environment. At school, the teachers are prone to nagging and the students are generally catty and demonstrate little intellectual curiosity or desire to learn. Compared with the rest, Miss Edmunds is extraordinarily sweet, kind, and beautiful. Most of the kids pretend not to like her, citing her hippie-like aura, but Jess adores her and knows that, deep down, so do the others. Music class is the only time at school when the students are allowed to let their hair down and relax and have fun.
Jess shares a special relationship with Miss Edmunds. She gives him the positive feedback and attention that he cannot find anywhere else. She is the only person he has shown his art to since he attempted to show it to his father years ago, when his father became angry and more or less accused Jess of being a sissy. Miss Edmunds, however, assures Jess that his work shows real promise and offers to help him in any way she can. She senses that he is an unusual child who is out of place in the world of Lark Creek Elementary—"the proverbial diamond in the rough," she calls him. Although Jess feels that description is more suited to Miss Edmunds herself than to him, he basks in the feeling of being cared for and appreciated.
Again, Jess is called out of his reverie by a call from his mother, a reminder to get on with the milking. As he milks, the rest of the family trickles in, Ellie and Brenda from shopping, and his father from work. Jess watches, envious, as May Belle runs to her father and is picked up and hugged and kissed. As Jess puts it, "it seemed he had been thought too old for that kind of thing since the day he was born." Throughout the night, the only thing his father says to him directly is "Mighty late with the milking, aren't you, son?"
The next morning, Jess goes out for his morning run, as usual. He is interrupted by a comment from a person sitting on their fence—"If you're so scared of the cow, why don't you just jump the fence?" At first, Jess cannot tell if the person speaking to him is a boy or a girl. He or she introduces him/herself as Leslie Burke, one of the new neighbors. Eventually, Jess comes to the correct conclusion that Leslie is a girl. He is more or less indifferent to her, and he shrugs her off, and goes back to the house to finish the chores.
The introduction of Miss Edmunds gives us our first glimpse of the world beyond this rural, somewhat backward society in which Jess lives. Miss Edmunds's leanings toward the hippie way of life, demonstrated by the songs she teaches the children, like "Blowing in the Wind" and "Free To Be You and Me." She is refreshingly different from the tenor of local society, which is generally poor, uneducated, and imbued with a roughness and brusqueness generated by unfavorable circumstances. Miss Edmunds brings the world beyond into this economically unfortunate area, carrying with her an indefinable sense of broadened horizons and carefree happiness. Jess's description of her as a "diamond in the rough" is quite apt; this is the role she continues to play throughout the whole of the novel.
Leslie's androgynous appearance is given some attention here, and it foreshadows an important theme that is to be developed more fully throughout the course of the novel. In the eyes of the world, Jess's friendship with Leslie is novel because cross-gender friendships are rare at that age. Jess's peers and siblings see Leslie as a girl, complete with all that the name implies. However, Leslie is not a "girl" in that sense in Jess's eyes. Rather, she transcends such standard definitions and perceptions of gender. At first, Jess cannot figure out if she is a boy or a girl, and it is quite fitting that he should be confused about this initially, because Leslie simply does not conform to society's prescription of femininity. It also foreshadows the way that Jess and Leslie can be platonic friends without the slightest hint of romantic or budding sexual tension. Jess just doesn't see her in that light.
This also points up the essential uselessness of such gender demands. Jess faces these demands every day, starting with his father's expectation that he will possess certain "masculine" qualities and eschew other "feminine" attributes. Jess is constrained in his search for individuality because he does not fit into some ready-made masculine model. His artwork is a good example of his confusion. Despite the clear talent that he demonstrates, his father is scornful because drawing is not a "boy's" pastime. Also, Jess's father's lack of demonstrated affection towards Jess is likewise a good indicator of his view that Jess is a young man and that men aren't given to such displays of emotion and affection. This is probably why Jess is so anxious to win the races at school, because running happens to be a skill of his that is coincidentally identified with masculine qualities. In winning the races, he will prove to his father than he can be a man's man after all. Nevertheless, this expectation of manliness clouds Jess's ability to discern who he really is. Leslie, however, is wholly apart from this struggle. Her short hair and boyish strength liberate her from the need to be either feminine or masculine. She is allowed to discover who she really is without reference to arbitrary gender designations
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bridge to Terabithia!