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Christmas is coming up, and Jess cannot figure out what to get for Leslie. Money is tight in his household, he has allotted a dollar for a present for each member of his family, and he has no way of getting a hold of any other money. He agonizes over it, knowing that Leslie will not care even if he does not get her anything, but it is important to him to be able to give her something. Finally one day he is on the bus, brooding over the situation, when he sees a sign advertising free puppies being given away. His problem is solved.
Leslie is delighted with the puppy. She names it Prince Terrien, making it a prince of Terabithia. However, its wild puppy behavior soon shows itself to be so flagrantly ill-suited to the name that she makes him the court jester instead, although she does not change his name. For Jess's present, she gives him an expensive art set, with twenty-four watercolors and a pad of heavy art paper.
The next morning Jess exchanges gifts with his family. His parents have splurged on an electric race-car set for him, something his father had clearly chosen in an effort to make him happy with something special. However, it does not work properly, and his father is tense and Jess desperately wants to please him. Finally he goes out to do the milking, where he joins Leslie and Prince Terrien. His tension and unhappiness vanish, and "it felt like Christmas again."
Jess's gift of Prince Terrien shows that money is not important to their friendship. He had wanted to buy her a TV, an expensive one that she could keep in her room, which she would probably enjoy and which also might go a long way to helping the kids in school to feel more friendly toward her. He clearly equates more expensive gifts with better gifts, and the fact that he does not have as much money as she makes him feel inadequate. Then he finds Prince Terrien, a far better gift than any television he could have bought her, and it becomes clear to him that money is not necessary to sustain his magical friendship with Leslie. The present that Leslie gives him is expensive, true, but it is special because of the thought that went into buying it and the care behind it.
The scene with Jess's father and the racecar set illuminates the dynamic between the two of them. It is clear here that Jess's father does care about him and wants him to be happy and his attempt to bridge the gap between them with an expensive present is touching. However, he makes the same mistake that Jess almost makes in selecting a present for Leslie. He assumes that more expensive presents are better presents and will make the recipient happier. He thinks Jess will like the racecars, but it shows how little he really knows Jess, that he would select that particular present. A better present would have been art supplies, or a book, or new running shoes. By splurging on this present, we are shown that Jess's father really does care about him, but it also demonstrates that the ties between them are tenuous, based on automatic, uneasy familial love rather than a relationship grounded in true knowledge of one another and mutual understanding.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bridge to Terabithia!