Bridge to Terabithia

by

Katherine Paterson

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Bridge to Terabithia: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The rest of Jess’s first week back to school is terrible. Leslie races the boys each day, rejoicing in her ability to beat them easily. By the end of the week, most of them have stopped running altogether, and Jess feels that Leslie has ruined the fun of running for him and the rest of the boys. On Friday, the week’s lone bright spot finally arrives in the form of Miss Edmunds’s music class. She greets Jess warmly as he walks into the room and asks if he kept up with his drawing over the summer—he says he has, and he promises to bring Miss Edmund some of his work to show her.
Miss Edmunds’s support of Jess’s artistic side means the world to him. His feelings of gratitude toward her, it seems, manifest as love or a crush: he’s so happy to have someone who sees him as he is without judgement that his feelings take him overboard.
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As the class gathers and Miss Edmunds begins strumming her guitar, entreating the class to sing along, Jess meets Leslie’s eyes across the room. They smile at each other, and Jess privately forgives Leslie. He berates himself for behaving cruelly toward her and decides to treat the oncoming school year as a “new season” in his life.
After being in the presence of Miss Edmunds—a benevolent, nonjudgmental figure who herself shirks gender roles and social norms—Jess forgives Leslie and decides that he wants to embark upon a friendship with the strange but magnetic girl.
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That afternoon on the bus, Leslie sits with Jess and May Belle and tells them all about her old school in Arlington, a suburb of Washington. Jess asks if Leslie hates it in Lark Creek, and she admits that he does. He asks why she and her parents moved—she replies that her parents are “reassessing their value structure” after realizing that money had become too important to them. They want to live in nature and “think about what’s important.” Leslie says she doesn’t resent her parents for bringing her out here—she still believes the move has the potential to become an adventure.
This passage shows that Leslie comes from a very different social and economic background than Jess. Her family clearly has money—they have had the option of moving to the rural countryside rather than being forced, like Jess’s dad is, to do whatever is required of them to make ends meet.
Themes
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As the days go by, Leslie continues struggling to fit in at school. For a writing assignment in which students are asked to write about their favorite hobbies, Leslie writes about the obscure pursuit of scuba diving; later, she embarrasses herself in front of Mrs. Myers’s class by admitting that her family doesn’t have a television. Jess can do little to help Leslie other than stand by as the other students mock her. One afternoon, when he notices a group of girls bullying Leslie on the playground, he follows Leslie inside the building after she runs away from them. He sees her go into the bathroom and decides to wait outside for her—when she comes out, she’s been crying, but she refuses to talk to Jess about her feelings.
Though Leslie seemed, at first, impervious to the judgment of her classmates and uninterested in what others thought of her, soon the merciless teasing and bullying begins to get to her. Though Paterson shows how Leslie remains true to who she is, she also offers a glimpse into how hard it is to shirk the status quo.
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That afternoon, on the bus, Leslie goes to the back of the bus and sits in the seventh graders’ seats. Jess tries frantically to get her to come back to her regular seat as the biggest, meanest seventh-grade bully of them all, Janice Avery, comes down the aisle. As Janice approaches and threatens to start picking on Leslie, Jess decides to stand up to Janice even though he’s afraid of her. Jess defends Leslie by making a joke about Janice’s weight. Soon, other riders on the bus join in and taunt her, too. Leslie stands up and follows Jess back to their seat, but as Jess looks back, he can see that Janice doesn’t take her eyes off the two of them. Leslie warns Jess that Janice is going to get them back, but Jess insists he isn’t afraid of Janice.
This passage shows how Jess has learned to fight cruelty with more cruelty. Janice is a bully, but Jess mirrors her meanness as he attempts to preemptively defend himself and Leslie against her. Jess is willing to let Leslie experiment with the social atmosphere at Lark Creek to a certain degree—but he knows when she’s gone too far, and he attempts to help her walk back her mistake.
Themes
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That afternoon, when Jess, Leslie, and May Belle get off at their stop, Leslie asks if Jess wants to play. May Belle says she wants to come along, but Jess tells her to run home. When May Belle protests, Leslie bribes her by offering her some brand-new paper dolls. May Belle follows Leslie and Jess to the Burke house, where Leslie gives her the dolls and sends her happily on her way. Jess and Leslie run out into the field behind Leslie’s house, all the way down to a dried-up creek bed which separates the Burkes’ property from the woods. A rope hangs from a crabapple tree at the edge of the creek, and Jess and Leslie take turns swinging from it.
Though Jess is sick of being around his sisters all the time, he still wants to play with Leslie—even though she’s a girl just like them. This passage contrasts the ways in which May Belle and Leslie inhabit girlhood. While May Belle is easily distracted by stereotypically feminine games and activities, Leslie, who does not conform to gender roles, is open to doing more adventurous activities that appeal to Jess.  
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Leslie declares that they need a secret place that’s just for the two of them. She lowers her voice to a whisper and suggests they create a “whole secret country” of which they are the rulers. The idea excites Jess. Leslie suggests they start a “magic country like Narnia” in the woods beyond the creek. Jess doesn’t know what Narnia is—and he is frightened of going too deep into the woods—but he agrees to swing over the creek on the “enchanted rope” and help Leslie find a spot for their castle. Leslie doesn’t lead them very far into the woods at all before settling on a perfect spot. Leslie names the land “Terabithia.”
Jess and Leslie’s friendship exists because they’re both outsiders. It makes sense, then, that they want to secure a place for themselves away from the prying, judgmental eyes of their families and classmates. They want a place where they’re free to be the purest versions of themselves, outside the bounds of social norms they both fail to meet.
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The two of them spend the next several days and weeks building and preparing Terabithia. Leslie loans Jess her box set of The Chronicles of Narnia so that he can learn about how magic lands should be run. Jess feels that Leslie is a better and more natural “ruler” than he—she speaks like a queen while he can “hardly manage English.” Jess, however, finds that he can make a contribution to the construction of Terabithia—using materials from his family’s scrap heap, he builds them a castle stronghold. Leslie stocks the fort with snacks and water, and the two are satisfied with their creation. Leslie asks Jess to draw a picture of Terabithia to hang on the wall, but he says he’s afraid he won’t be able to capture its magic. Leslie assures him that someday he will.
Terabithia is a place where Leslie and Jess encourage each other’s quirks, strengths, and hidden passions. They are building it themselves, bit by bit, and trying to make sure that it is a true refuge from the world. Leslie urges Jess to use Terabithia as a place not just to explore but to celebrate his love of art—but Jess doesn’t yet know how to separate his love for art from his shame about that love.
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One afternoon, Janice Avery accuses Jess of tripping her on the bus. The bus driver makes Jess get out and walk. By the time he meets Leslie in Terabithia, she has been there reading for a long while. Leslie is angry at Janice Avery for framing Jess, and angry at their classmates for letting a “tyrant” like Janice take over the school.
This passage, again, shows how Terabithia functions as a safe haven from the cruelties and pressures of life at school, where bullies and other obstacles daily threaten both Jess and Leslie.
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By October, the other students at school have noticed how much time Leslie and Jess are spending together. Gary Fulcher teases Jess about his new “girl friend,” but Jess knows that what he and Leslie have is special. At recess, Jess and Leslie often just sit and talk while the other kids play, making jokes about their classmates or the strict, fat Mrs. Myers.  Their jokes about Mrs. Myers in particular are cruel—but they distract Jess and Leslie from the judgement of their peers and help them get through the days.
The more Jess and Leslie find themselves being teased and mocked by their peers, the more they themselves seek to mock others—perhaps as a way of making themselves feel better about their own outsider status, or perhaps as a way of feeling in control of their surroundings.
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By December, the weather has turned cold. Leslie brings two sleeping bags to Terabithia to help keep her and Jess warm—but Jess makes her take them back to her parents’ house because he’s afraid of angering her parents by taking them. Jess isn’t necessarily afraid of Leslie’s parents, but he is intimidated by them. Their names are Bill and Judy, and that is what Leslie calls them. They are both writers and intellectuals, and Jess is constantly amazed by the number of books they have in their house. Though the Burkes don’t appear to be ultra-rich, Jess can tell from small things about their clothes, their car, and the things in their home that they do not need to worry about money. Jess is afraid that if he spends too much time around Leslie’s parents, they’ll begin to think he’s stupid.
Jess and Leslie come from very different backgrounds. Whereas Jess’s family is large, poor, and conservative, Leslie’s is small, financially comfortable, and quite liberal—even radical. Jess doesn’t want to seem stupid or backwards to Leslie’s parents and risk their friendship. Jess is still afraid to show people who he truly is, even though Leslie has helped him come a long way in terms of accepting himself.
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Jess doesn’t feel comfortable bringing Leslie to his house, either. Mrs. Aarons acts strange around Leslie (and privately talks judgmentally about Leslie’s clothes, wild hair, and “hippie” parents), while his sisters tease Leslie about being their brother’s girlfriend. Jess, though, tries not to concern himself with such matters—for the first time in his life, he has been waking up feeling as if he has something to look forward to.
Jess is not embarrassed by Leslie, per se, but he is still aware of the ways in which her resistance to social cues and gender norms startles and confuses other people. Jess sees Leslie as precious in his mind, and doesn’t want to put her in situations where that specialness might be diminished.
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Jess loves visiting Terabithia each day with Leslie. The two of them begin spending a lot of time in the pine forest just beyond their castle—though Jess used to be scared of the trees and worry the place was haunted, he now finds it peaceful. Leslie agrees, and dubs the pine grove a sacred place where the spirits of Terabithia live. She suggests they come into the grove only in times of great sorrow or joy to call upon the spirits for advice.
Terabithia is more than just a hideout or playground—it is an intensely spiritual place where Jess and Leslie feel they can go to investigate the deepest, darkest questions they have about themselves, one another, and their purpose in life.
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