The Bridge of San Luis Rey

by

Thornton Wilder

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The Bridge of San Luis Rey Symbol Analysis

The Bridge of San Luis Rey Symbol Icon

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

The The Bridge of San Luis Rey quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Bridge of San Luis Rey. 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:

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.

Related Symbols: The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Bridge of San Luis Rey Symbol Timeline in The Bridge of San Luis Rey

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bridge of San Luis Rey 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
One July morning in 1714, a large bridge outside Lima collapses and plunges five people to their deaths. The collapse is particularly shocking... (full context)
Part 2: The Marquesa de Montemayor
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
...Cluxambuqua in order to pray for Doña Clara’s safe delivery. She travels across the famous bridge of San Luis Rey in her sedan chair and goes up into the beautiful and... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
...the courage to change her ways. Two days later, both women are killed in the bridge collapse as they travel back to Lima. (full context)
Part 3: Esteban
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
...recovers his composure, and the two men set off for Lima. When they reach the bridge of San Luis Rey, the Captain stays behind to arrange the transportation of the luggage.... (full context)
Part 4: Uncle Pio
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
...from the rough movement, Uncle Pio carries him on his shoulders. As they reach the bridge, they encounter Captain Alvarado, and soon after they stop to speak to “an old lady... (full context)
Part 5: Perhaps an Intention
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Some time after the bridge collapse, the city builds a new bridge out of stone. Meanwhile, the event enters the... (full context)
Grief and Loss Theme Icon
The day of the memorial service for victims of the bridge collapse is sunny and warm. The Archbishop sits sweating on his throne, while Don Andrés... (full context)
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Love and Obsession Theme Icon
Grief and Loss Theme Icon
...and Camila and Doña Clara die, no one will remember those who died on the bridge. However, it seems to her that “the love will have been enough,” because “even memory... (full context)