Love and Loneliness in Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey
"Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far."
-Theodore Roosevelt, 1901
In Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1939), a message is woven throughout the pages and portrayed in each character. The novel is about the finest bridge in all of Peru and on Friday, July the twentieth, 1714, the bridge broke, taking five travelers into the gulf below. Brother Juniper, a monk who witnessed the catastrophe burned the question, "Why did this happen to those five?" He also poses the proposition, "Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan" (pg. 119). The novel tediously describes each of the five killed in the accident. All five of them were well-respected people in the public eye who, at one point in their lives, deeply loved someone, but unintentionally loses them. As the novel draws closer to the end, the message becomes clearer to the reader. Thornton Wilder uses the bridge in his novel to symbolize the "bridge" between love and loneliness. The "bridge" of love that "connects one to another gives dignity and purpose to even the lowliest of lives" (pg. 119).
One of the victims of the accident was the Marquesa de Montemayor, Doña María. She had an unhappy childhood, "she was ugly; she stuttered; her mother persecuted her with sarcasms" (pg. 11). She lived alone and when she was finally forced into marriage, she still lived alone. When she was bore with a daughter, she was determined to give "her idolatrous love" (pg. 12). However, little Clara took after her father and was cold and intellectual. Clara frightened her mother, "but Doña María could not prevent herself from persecuting Clara with nervous attention and fatiguing love" (pg. 12). Doña Clara purposely chose a marriage that would move her to Spain. Being left alone in Lima, "the Marquesa's life grew to be more and more inward . . . she secretly refused to believe that anyone (herself excepted) loved anyone" (pg.16). She loved her daughter not for her daughter's sake, but for her own; "she wanted to hear her daughter say: 'You are the best of all possible mothers.' She longed to hear her whisper: 'Forgive me' "(pg. 16). Thornton Wilder describes Doña María as a very lonely and inward person, she believes that she is the only one in the world who loves and wants to be loved. The "bridge" of love with her daughter broke when Doña Clara was a young girl. Now Doña María is an isolated lonely woman who dreams of being loved by her daughter.
The Marquesa's servant girl, Pepita, was an orphan "and had been brought up by that strange genius of Lima, the Abbess Madre María del Pilar" (pg. 26). Pepita loved being in the convent and loved the Abbess very much. She was a very quiet and soft-spoken girl, and when the Marquesa came to get a servant girl, Pepita did not refuse nor get excited. When Pepita goes through the hardest time of...