Love and Loneliness in Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey
"Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far."
-Theodore Roosevelt, 1901
In Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1939), a message is woven throughout the pages and portrayed in each character. The novel is about the finest bridge in all of Peru and on Friday, July the twentieth, 1714, the bridge broke, taking five travelers into the gulf below. Brother Juniper, a monk who witnessed the catastrophe burned the question, "Why did this happen to those five?" He also poses the proposition, "Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan" (pg. 119). The novel tediously describes each of the five killed in the accident. All five of them were well-respected people in the public eye who, at one point in their lives, deeply loved someone, but unintentionally loses them. As the novel draws closer to the end, the message becomes clearer to the reader. Thornton Wilder uses the bridge in his novel to symbolize the "bridge" between love and loneliness. The "bridge" of love that "connects one to another gives dignity and purpose to even the lowliest of lives" (pg. 119).
One of the victims of the accident was the Marquesa de Montemayor, Doña María. She had an unhappy childhood, "she was ugly; she stuttered; her mother persecuted her with sarcasms" (pg. 11). She lived alone and when she was finally forced into marriage, she still lived alone. When she was bore with a daughter, she was determined to give "her idolatrous love" (pg. 12). However, little Clara took after her father and was cold and intellectual. Clara frightened her mother, "but Doña María could not prevent herself from...
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...ld sit down and rest, but it turned out not to be necessary" (pg. 102).
The breaking of the bridge in Thornton Wilder's novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1939) symbolizes a realistic message of how there is a "land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning" (pg. 117). The characters in the novel display the true affection at one point in their life and suddenly in an instant, the bridge is beyond repair. Wilder does an amazing job of creating a situation approached in every day life about love, losing and loneliness. The message in The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1939) is one that all of the world can relate to, it's a strong "bridge" at one point and with one wrong move, it's broken and lost forever.
Wilder, Thornton. The Bridge of San Luis Rey. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. 1955.