About the Book

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

Themes and Analysis

Bridge to Terabithia

By Katherine Paterson

Katherine Paterson’s a ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ covers mostly the themes of loneliness, grief, and friendship - all of which come to play in Jesse’s quest to find care and attention.

Bridge to Terabithia’ first welcomes readers with the theme of loneliness as young Jesse is seen worried he doesn’t get the much-needed attention and love from his busy parents who are distracted by the responsibility of earning a living for a family of seven. Later in the book, other themes – including friendship and grief are introduced.

Bridge to Terabithia Themes


Leslie and especially Jesse are the two major characters the reader sees grappling with the issue of loneliness and needing attention. From the plot, Jesse is sad and irritable to himself and towards the people around him; his sisters, his parents, and fifth-grade teachers at Lark Creek Elementary school.

He gets this way because he feels left alone with no one caring about what he wants and needs. Helps parents do opt care too much. His father is swept away by work, and his mother, is too busy homemaking, nurturing the girls, and worrying about the pile of bills to be paid. Leslie, in a milder way, feels the same – given that her parents, despite working from home, are focused on work stuff than the needs of their daughter.


This is perhaps the predominant theme of Katherine Paterson’s ‘Bridge to Terabithia’. Jesse and Leslie discover friendship and all its benefits in their desire for wanting out of shared loneliness. Discovering friendship for these two wasn’t going to be an easy task – as both get off on a wrong footing before finding that common issue that they have and then agreeing to disagree then settling as friends to build their dreamland Terabithia.


Bridge to Terabithia’ is also a story of self-discovery and self-realization. Jesse comes at the center of this as readers see him struggle – at home, in school, among his peers – to be loved, appreciated, and cared for. Jesse is doing something wrong by filling that void with sadness and angst, but after Leslie helps him discover himself, he knows better how to handle people and situations.

Gender Stereotype

Gender roles and expectations are in play in ‘Bridge to Terabithia’, and the reader gets to see this in the life of Jesse and Leslie, at least. Jesse is considered too girlish by his father – who wants him to be very masculine, hard, and stoic in all he does. His father even considers his drawing ability as a girl thing and doesn’t like it very much for him. Similarly, Leslie’s parents think the same of her – for she is rather tomboyish in dressing and actions.

Key Moments in Bridge to Terabithia

  1. The plot sets in a small town in Virginia called Lark Creek – around the 1970s.
  2. 10-year-old Jesse Aarons is the only son of five children born to Mr. and Mrs. Aarons – one of the many poor families in Lark Creek.
  3. Jesse is sad and lonely because he doesn’t get the care and attention like his sisters do: His father is a workaholic who is rarely around, and when he finds small time off, he spends them on the girls. Like his father, Jesse’s mother only has to tend to the home, look after the girls, nag at Jesse, and worry about unpaid bills.
  4. Jesse grows increasingly sad and the only time he finds himself happy is when he draws – but even this talent he hides from his family because they – especially his father – think it’s stupid and feminine of him. However, his music teacher Miss Edmunds likes and appreciates drawing skills.
  5. Jesse tries to earn his father’s respect by doing something more manly so he picks up running and even wins a few races during school break practices.
  6. One day, while Jesse is out in the field rehearsing a sprint, Leslie, a next-door neighbor who appears tomboyish, walks up to him wanting to be friends. Jesse is not interested, leaves her, and walks.
  7. The next day, Jesse discovers that Leslie is her new classmate – and during recess when all the boys are to compete in a sprint, Leslie asks to join in. Unexpectedly, she defeats all the boys – giving them one more reason to dislike her. But Jesse, however, starts to admire her and thinks there’s something special in the way that she runs.
  8. Jesse hangs out with Leslie. As they explore the neighborhood, they pick up a rope using it to swing over the marsh-prone corners of the area where they find and renovate an old tree. Leslie names this place ‘Terabithia’. Here, they are royalties living their wildest dreams and imaginations and spend a lot of time here together.
  9. As they spend more time together in Terabithia, their confidence and peace grow – even when they face opposition in the real world, Terabithia brings them tranquility.
  10. Jesse gives Leslie a puppy as a gift on Christmas; the puppy will then be brought to Terabithia and named prince Terrien and appointed guardian of Terabithia.
  11. Leslie goes to church with Jesse and May Bell on Easter Sunday and is fascinated by the service. Jesse and May Bell take the liberty to preach Jesus to her as the only way she can avoid going to hell. Leslie is adamant that God can’t allow that to happen to her.
  12. Its springs and heavy downpours have just started stomping hard on the periphery of Terabithia making them slippery and dangerous. Prince Terrien’s life is apparently at stake and Jesse is worried about that and intends to warn Leslie about the latest developments in Terabithia.
  13. But just then his music teacher Miss Edmunds asks him to follow her to an art museum in Washington, Jesse is fascinated and accepts. He doesn’t have a chance to contact Leslie but he wants.
  14. Jesse returns from the trip and is told that Leslie had drowned in Terabithia while trying to cross the harboring creek.
  15. Jesse is sad and blames himself for Leslie’s death. If he had warned her, he thought.
  16. Later, Jesse puts the guilt and sadness away and musters enough strength to build a bridge across Terabithia, this way no other person can get hurt or killed. He invites his little sister May Bell – to share in the life-transforming experience he has.

Style and Tone

In terms of the style used in ‘Bridge to Terabithia’, Katherine Paterson opts for a monovocal, third-person narrative style – therewith we see the plots unfold through the eyes of 10-year-old Jesse, as he develops both physically -through the ages, and mentally – through the transforming experiences he gains by being friends with Leslie. The tone is simple – although sometimes a bit abrasive, but generally friendly and informal.

Figurative Languages

There are several figurative expressions infused by Katherine Paterson in her book ‘Bridge to Terabithia’. To start with, the word ‘Terabithia’ has a metaphorical undertone for freedom, and this is exactly what it brings to Jesse and Leslie; a place they can be free from the troubles of joy fitting into the world. I a place to live one’s dreams. Other expressions readers can expect to find in ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ include; simile, hyperbole, and exaggeration, allusion among others.

Analysis of Symbols in Bridge to Terabithia

The Bridge

The bridge in the book ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ symbolizes many things among which include; hope for a better life, and the line between real and unreal. For Jesse, building the bridge and inviting May Bell through it shows how he has matured from being a scared and sad little boy to bring a competent leader who steps up and fixes problems when they arise.


Where is Terabithia in Katherine Paterson’s book ‘Bridge to Terabithia’?

Terabithia is a magical country created by Leslie and Jesse out of an abandoned brush about their neighborhood. This place allows them to be king and queen, build castles, create and play games and imagine all they want from life.

How does Leslie die in ‘Bridge to Terabithia’?

During the time when Jesse is out to a museum in Washington with his music teacher, Leslie goes alone to Terabithia. While she tries to cross over using a rope for a swing, the rope cuts above her and she falls and hits her head, and drowns in the swamp.

What is the prevalent theme in Katherine Paterson’s ‘Bridge to Terabithia’?

Friendship is easily the most pronounced theme in Katherine Paterson’s ‘Bridge to Terabithia’. It is through this theme that all the other themes connect.

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.
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