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Bridge to Terabithia | Study Guide

Katherine Paterson

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Bridge to Terabithia | Chapter 1 : Jesse Oliver Aarons, Jr. | Summary



It is August, just before the school year begins, and Jess wakes up early to go for a run. He waits until his father leaves for work and is careful not to wake his mother and sisters. Jess has been training all summer, running through the cow pasture in his overalls with his rough, bare feet. He wants to be the fastest runner in fifth grade and not just the "crazy little kid that draws all the time." Jess runs for longer than usual and is called in to breakfast by his younger sister May Belle. When he enters the kitchen, his older sisters Ellie and Brenda make fun of his sweatiness and odor. Momma scolds Jess and makes him wash in the cold water of the kitchen sink.

When Momma announces chores to do, the older girls object, saying they need to go school shopping. Jess observes to himself that "these girls could get out of work faster than grasshoppers could slip through your fingers." The girls also wheedle five dollars from their mother, saying their father promised them the money, even though Momma protests she "ain't got no money to give you." Since the two youngest girls are not old enough to help with chores, the older girls' departure has "left Jess to do the work as usual," including milking the cow and picking beans in the noonday sun. As Jess picks beans, May Belle arrives with news that new neighbors are moving into the "ratty old country house" next door. Jess's first thought is "they wouldn't last," but the narrator notes he later recognizes this moment as "probably the biggest thing in his life."


While the chapter title seems direct enough, it immediately calls attention to an important influence in Jess's life: his father. Jess is a "Jr.," and his strained relationship with his father opens the story. Jess doesn't want his father to know about his running because he might consider it a waste of time and give Jess more chores to do instead. And Jess has many chores—unlike his lazy, complaining older sisters, who are indulged by their parents. The girls are able to go out, have fun, and spend the family's very limited resources, while Jess is expected to do a considerable amount of work on the farm and does not receive the same benefits. He recognizes the unfairness of this situation and understandably resents it. Jess's only real support within the family is May Belle, who admires him and helps him through small acts of service.

The family's poverty is evident, from the narrator's descriptions of Jess's "worn-out" sneakers with "holes in the bottom" to the trashy "scrap heap" at the edge of the pasture. For the Aarons family, farming puts food on the table, but there's never enough money to go around. Jess's father expects him to be "a man" and help with the work to provide for the family. Although Jess grouses about his duties, he takes them seriously and is responsible about getting them done.

For Jess running is a way he can prove himself to the other students at school, where he has little social clout. He has been known as the "crazy little kid that draws all the time," a label he wishes to escape. Jess wants to fit in with his peers and be admired; he wants to rise to the top of the pack, in running, as he gets older and more ambitious. As with many aspects of life Jess models his running stance on what he sees on television, in this case the show Wide World of Sports; television is his main outlet to the world beyond Lark Creek. And while Jess loves to draw, it is considered "unmanly," so he hides his artistic talent from almost everyone.

The narrator's point of view is also significant. The narrator relates the actions and words of all the characters, but reveals the thoughts of only one character: Jess. In doing so the narrator leads the reader to interpret events and characters of the story through Jess's eyes and makes Jess more sympathetic to the reader. The narrator also uses a flash-forward to show Jess's thoughts in the future about the new neighbors moving in. The revelation that this event is "probably the biggest thing in his life" cues the reader to pay special attention to the neighbors, who will become important in the story.

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