About the Book

Book Protagonist: Jesse Oliver Aarons
Publication Date: 1977
Genre: Children, Fantasy

Historical Context

Bridge to Terabithia

By Katherine Paterson

Katherine Paterson’s ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ is set in the 1970s and so is characterized by the prevalence of stagflation - which was the major economic trend in the United States at the time.

Bridge to Terabithia’ captures the state of affairs in the US state of Virginia – in a local town anchoring a few kilometers away from Washington, D. C. – and mostly occupied by people of limited means among which are Jesse’s family.

The US Economic Stagflation of the 1970s

Bridge to Terabithia’ was set around the late 1970s – a period that also coincided with a period of economic hardship in the United States popularly remembered as the stagflation period.

The stagflation period refers to the period in America’s economic history when the country experienced extremely slow economic growth against fast-rising prices. This period was characterized by a high rate of unemployment, gas price hike, economic recession, and inflation.

This factor has a certain effect on the characters of Katherine Paterson’s ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ – as the reader sees how Jesse’s family struggles. His mother, Mrs. Aarons, is always worrying about bills and how to circumvent a certain financial burden, while his father, Mr. Aarons, commutes to the distant Washington D.C. to work his hardware job.

The implication of the stagflation period on ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ is that living was generally hard on most of the characters – and an exception for Leslie’s parents, Bill and Judy Burke, who, for the virtue of being writers usually work from home, may have escaped the hard economy hardship by some margin compared with the other characters like Jesse’s family.

This state of things becomes responsible for why the reader gets to see that most characters in the book are either moving away from Lark Creek to a bigger city – such as Washington and others – for jobs.

This is because the economic stagflation crippled America so much so that few jobs in small towns and villages disappear, and dwellers don’t have a choice but to travel to bigger cities where there are more than a few opportunities to make a living.

The Rub-off Effect of Civil Rights Movements

The impact of civil rights movements which took place years before the period in which Katherine Paterson set ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ is another historical factor that had an influence on the way that Katherine Paterson built her plots and molded her characters.

The reader sees this play out in the book with different characters in their nouveau liberal, avant-garde way that had just started trending then. For example, Jesse’s music teacher – who he admires so much – is unconcerned about popularly acceptable social norms and conventions. She has no problem putting on jean pants, speaking, or acting in a certain way considered not acceptable.

This choice of lifestyle is also portrayed by a few of the other characters – including Leslie, and it goes to show how much of an impact social justice and civil rights movement have on the characters of Katherine Paterson’s ‘Bridge to Terabithia’.

The Banning of Bridge to Terabithia

Katherine Paterson’s book ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ didn’t get it all rosy post-publication. Yes! the book made an early statement, sold several hundred thousand, and became a mover of a new culture in the children’s book category, but that’s about where the problem started.

During its circulation across the US as part of the curriculum for schools, several educational institutions rejected incorporating the book as part of their syllabus. Their reason was that the book contained several bad, inappropriate words and expressions not suitable for children. Another claim was that its plot dwelt on the mystic and supernatural.


What historical background was ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ built on?

The stagflation period of the 1970s and the civil rights movement were two prominent historical backstories to ‘Bridge to Terabithia’.

Why was Katherine Paterson’s ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ banned?

Shortly after its release, ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ was banned from usage in several schools in the US for its use of inappropriate words and expressions.

Is ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ based on a true life account?

Bridge to Terabithia’ in itself is a children’s fantasy fiction, however, the inspiration for the book comes from a real-life tragic event.

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap
Share to...