Lurking behind each character’s narrative is the ancient bridge which, as the first sentence of the novel proclaims, will eventually plunge them to their deaths. Before the collapse, the bridge is a cultural landmark, integral to social lore—people take pride in the fact that it’s very old, and that it’s consecrated to a specific French saint. To the citizens of Lima, Peru, “the bridge seemed to be among the things that last forever”; it has a grounding and stabilizing influence on the city. However, in a single moment, the bridge transforms from a symbol of a constancy to one of tragedy; after the collapse, people cross themselves when they think about the bridge and imagine “themselves falling into a gulf.” After the collapse, the bridge represents the constant potential for calamity that undergirds daily life, and the meaninglessness that life seems to acquire if senseless death is only ever a second away. The attempts of various characters to overcome this sense of meaninglessness and build satisfactory lives through art, altruism, and love, is the defining triumph of the novel.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey Quotes in The Bridge of San Luis Rey
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.
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.
Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God.