The Bridge of San Luis Rey

by

Thornton Wilder

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Brother Juniper Character Analysis

Brother Juniper is a Limean friar who witnesses the bridge collapse. He decides to thoroughly investigate each of the victims in order prove that the catastrophe was an act of God and discern why God specifically chose these five people to die. While Brother Juniper is a well-intentioned clergyman whose beliefs are sincere, the novel portrays him as overzealous and often silly; his attempts to literally prove that worldly disasters reflect divine will emerge as contradictory, and prevent him from providing help to his parishioners in more tangible ways. Paradoxically, despite his devotion to Catholicism, Brother Juniper’s investigations are deemed heretical, and he is eventually burned at the stake. Ultimately, the friar’s obsession with religious dogma stands in contrast to the Abbess’s quiet devotion to good works and her close personal relationships with the people she helps; the novel ultimately uses Brother Juniper to argue that matters of dogma are less important than human connection and altruism.

Brother Juniper Quotes in The Bridge of San Luis Rey

The The Bridge of San Luis Rey quotes below are all either spoken by Brother Juniper or refer to Brother Juniper. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Collins edition of The Bridge of San Luis Rey published in 1927.
Part 1: Perhaps an Accident Quotes

If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan.

Related Characters: Brother Juniper (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

It seemed to Brother Juniper that it was high time for theology to take its place among the exact sciences and he had long intended putting it there. What he had lacked hitherto was a laboratory […] but this collapse of the bridge of San Luis Rey was a sheer Act of God. It afforded a perfect laboratory. Here at last one could surprise His intentions in a pure state.

Related Characters: Brother Juniper (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5: Perhaps an Intention Quotes

And on that afternoon Brother Juniper took a walk along the edge of the Pacific. He tore up his findings and cast them into the waves; he gazed for an hour upon the great clouds of pearl that hang forever upon the horizon of the sea, and extracted from their beauty a resignation that he did not permit his reason to examine. The discrepancy between faith and the facts is greater than is generally assumed.

Related Characters: Brother Juniper
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

I shall spare you Brother Juniper’s generalizations. They are always with us. He thought he saw in the same accident the wicked visited by destruction and the good called early to Heaven. He thought he saw pride and wealth confounded as an object lesson to the world, and he thought he saw humility crowned and rewarded for the edification of the city.

Related Characters: Brother Juniper
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:
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Brother Juniper Character Timeline in The Bridge of San Luis Rey

The timeline below shows where the character Brother Juniper appears in The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Perhaps an Accident
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
One witness to the bridge collapse is Brother Juniper , an Italian missionary who is trying to convert the indigenous population to Christianity. On... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
Brother Juniper believes it’s high time for a theologian to take on such an investigation—he wants to... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
...might seem like such an experiment would be the result of a religious skeptic, but Brother Juniper is a completely earnest believer. He merely wants to prove his beliefs absolutely to the... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
For the next six years, Brother Juniper traverses Lima, interrogating the victims’ friends and families about their inner lives and filling dozens... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Art and Memory Theme Icon
However, despite all his hard work, Brother Juniper is unable to plumb the secret depths of any of the victims. The narrator wonders... (full context)
Part 2: The Marquesa de Montemayor
Art and Memory Theme Icon
...the beauty and wit of her letters. In his own research just after her death, Brother Juniper makes the opposite mistake, judging her too harshly. (full context)
Part 5: Perhaps an Intention
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
However, the real “monument” to the catastrophe is Brother Juniper ’s book. He comes up with this idea from a friend who is filled with... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Hearing skepticism like this, Brother Juniper becomes sure that it’s time to produce “tabulated proof” of his own contrasting beliefs. He... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Art and Memory Theme Icon
After this failure, Brother Juniper tears up his papers and casts them into the ocean; watching them float away, he... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Art and Memory Theme Icon
Brother Juniper also draws inspiration from a fellow cleric who one day stopped in Lima’s cathedral to... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Art and Memory Theme Icon
Brother Juniper works hard on his book, determined to include even the most seemingly insignificant details. He... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Brother Juniper learns to concentrate on those who knew the victims best. The Abbess tells him in... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
The few conclusions at which Brother Juniper arrives aren’t very useful—his work leads him to believe that the same catastrophe has punished... (full context)
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
Orthodox to the end, Brother Juniper accepts the conclusion that “the devil had made use of him to effect a brilliant... (full context)