All children can relate in someway to Katherine Paterson’s Newbery Medal-winning children’s novel, Bridge to Terabithia.
Jess and Leslie, the main characters in the book undergo many life changing circumstances such as becoming the best of friends and then having to let go of that friendship. Three subjects that mold Jess and Leslie into a more mature person are competition, friendship, and acceptance.
Jess Aarons is a ten-years-old and grows up in a house where he is the only boy with four sisters. He lives in a small town and has a hard time finding ways to entertain himself. His greatest hope is to become the fastest runner in the fifth grade. It is very important for Jess to win: “One time last year Jesse had won. Not just the first heat but the whole shebang. Only once. But it had put in his mouth a taste for winning”(Paterson 4).
It was so important for Jess to win because he needed the respect from his peers and his family. Jess’s main interest in life was drawing and no one seemed to understand his passion: “Ever since he’d been in first grade he’d been that “crazy little kid that draws all the time” (Paterson 4).
Jess needed something in his life that made him feel normal. Being the fastest kid in the fifth grade made him feel like a star. He was sure that this year he would be the fastest.
I woke up in the middle of the night after the weird noise coming from my brother Jake’s room. It was his alarm that made such noise. He has an important high school exam today. Apparently he thought that having a fire drill sound as his alarm tune would surely wake him up, it did but it woke all of us up. After finally being able to sleep again, I woke up around eight o’clock. I was thirty minute ...
On the first day of school, he gets beat by the new girl, Leslie Burke: “He felt it before he saw it. Someone was moving up. He automatically pumped harder. Then the shape was there in his sideways vision. Then suddenly pulling ahead….. The faded cutoffs crossed the line a full three feet ahead of him”(Paterson 27).
Jess was not going to be the fastest runner in fifth grade this year. It shocked all the boys on the playground that Leslie had run the race: ”There was no cheering at either end of the field. The rest of the boys seemed as stunned as he”(Paterson 27) After the race Leslie attempts to befriend Jess. He is still embarrassed that she beat him and was not comfortable being friends with a girl. Jess tries hard to ignore Leslie and not become her friend: “Jess turned his eyes and met Leslie’s. He smiled at her. What the heck? There wasn’t any reason he couldn’t. What was he scared of anyhow?”(Paterson 31).
Jess realized that he really liked Leslie and it didn’t matter that she was a girl, or beat him running. He liked her because she reminded Jess of his more exciting self. They soon become inseparable. Leslie and Jess are complete opposites. Jess has many fears and Leslie seems fearless. Leslie has imagination and inspiration, and Jess envies that. Leslie’s family has money and gets along. Jess’ family is always scraping by and nearly dysfunctional. But nonetheless, they become best friends. In the woods, they create Terabithia, their own secret kingdom where they rule together. Their friendship fulfilled the voids in their lives. They grew to need each other: “Jess tried going to Terabithia alone, but it was no good. It needed Leslie to make the magic. He was afraid he would destroy everything by trying to force the magic on his own, when it was plain that the magic was reluctant to come for him.”(Paterson 65) Jess was dependent on Leslie to create the magic in Terabithia. He didn’t have enough faith in his own imagination to believe he was able to make the magic happen all on his own.
During a heavy rain spell, Jess and Leslie go to Terabithia and Leslie says, “Me thinks some evil being has put a curse on our beloved kingdom…For of a truth I perceive that this is no ordinary rain that is falling upon our kingdom” (Paterson 90-91. Little do they know that this is no ordinary rain indeed, for this is the last time Jess and Leslie ever go to Terabithia together again. One cruel morning, tragedy strikes and Leslie dies. Jess must come to grips with her death and the world. Except now he has to do it alone. Leslie’s death is the hardest obstacle Jess has ever had to overcome. But in dealing with Leslie’s death, Jess realizes how much strength and courage he has gained from Leslie. Leslie and Terabithia were essential for Jess to evolve into the character he is at the end of the story. They were important for him to overcome his fears and make him realize that he does not need to depend on anyone else to make his life more exciting. He realizes that he doesn’t need Leslie to protect him anymore. He does not need to take refuge in Terabithia because he can face his obstacles:
Magic was remarkably prevalent through society in the early Middle Ages. As the Middle Ages wore on the Church began to exert its considerable power to suppress it. Even the meanings of many words associated with the supernatural changed. Although the Church suppressed some magic, other forms were allowed and accepted into Christianity, and were even encouraged.1 Before the Church began its ...
“He thought about it all day, how before Leslie came, he had been a nothing–a stupid…It was Leslie who had taken him from the cow pasture into Terabithia and turned him into a king. Now it occurred to him that perhaps Terabithia was like a castle where you came to be knighted. After you stayed awhile and grew strong you had to move on.” (126)
In the end, Jess builds a bridge to Terabithia and takes May Belle there, and he becomes to May Belle whom Leslie was for him. Jess does not need Leslie to enter Terabithia because although Leslie is gone, Terabithia will remain and live on with May Belle.
The subjects of competition, friendship, and acceptance are common among children of this age. Paterson explores these subjects for children to relate with their own struggles of growing up. These experiences mold children into a more mature and capable person. They help them deal with situations that they will face later in life and make them realize what is important in life.
Paterson, Katherine. Bridge to Terabithia. New York: Harper