The Bridge of San Luis Rey


Thornton Wilder

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Themes and Colors
Acts of God and Individual Will Theme Icon
Love and Obsession Theme Icon
Dogma vs. Altruism Theme Icon
Art and Memory Theme Icon
Grief and Loss Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Acts of God and Individual Will

The Bridge of San Luis Rey centers around the collapse of an ancient bridge outside Lima that sends five very different characters plummeting to their deaths. Because the calamity seems to defy rational explanation or moral understanding, it becomes a touchstone in the community, forcing observers to wonder if such events are a reflection of divine will or simply the result of random individual actions. The question of God’s presence, or lack thereof, in everyday…

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Love and Obsession

Set in eighteenth-century Lima, Peru, The Bridge of San Luis Rey examines the lives of several characters who die suddenly in a bridge collapse. While the characters live disparate lives and seem to have little in common, many are similar in their obsessive love for a person or an idea. Love is often portrayed as a highly positive emotion, but the novel argues that such feelings can easily lead to obsessive, selfish, and destructive behavior…

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Dogma vs. Altruism

The Bridge of San Luis Rey portrays the vibrant but highly flawed society of eighteenth-century Lima, Peru. One of the social problems the novel addresses is the tension between people who loudly promote (while not actually practicing) dogmatic principles and people who behave altruistically in everyday life. On a broad level, this dichotomy is represented by Brother Juniper, a missionary who is intent on “saving” the souls of the Peruvian heathens but does little…

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Art and Memory

The Bridge of San Luis Rey portrays eighteenth-century colonial Lima through the lens of five different characters who are involved in a sudden bridge collapse. In chronicling their lives prior to this catastrophe, the novel presents various kinds of art and artistry—from Doña María’s witty letters, to the Perichole’s legendary acting, to Brother Juniper’s unfinished book. The novel establishes art as an elevating and dignifying force, especially because of its role in…

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Grief and Loss

Throughout The Bridge of San Luis Rey, characters try to justify catastrophes—namely, the fatal collapse of the titular bridge—using both religious and quasi-scientific explanations. Moreover, they try to foster connection with others through platonic and romantic relationships that often become obsessive in nature. The novel posits that these are unhealthy and often unsuccessful means to living a meaningful life and responding to trauma. In contrast, the novel highlights experiences of profound grief—especially when…

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