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Bridge to Terabithia | Study Guide

Katherine Paterson

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Bridge to Terabithia | Chapter 2 : Leslie Burke | Summary



Jess spends the day canning beans with his mother, who "had screamed at Jess all afternoon and was now too tired to fix any supper." He makes sandwiches for himself and the girls, which they eat outside while their frazzled mother watches TV. Jess then slips away to his room to draw, a pastime that brings him peace and helps him relax. "Lord, he loved to draw," the narrator says. The narrator also reveals Jess "would like to show his drawings to his dad, but he didn't dare." His father doesn't want Jess to be an artist and blames Jess's school for "turning my only son into some kind of a—" (The word questioning his son's manliness is unspoken, but it's clearly not meant as a compliment.)

In reality, however, no one at the school supports Jess's art except for Miss Edmunds, the music teacher, who praises his talent and encourages him to keep drawing. Jess has a crush on her, even though—or because—she is a "hippie" and "the only female teacher anyone had never seen in Lark Creek Elementary wearing pants." Miss Edmunds's music class is Jess's favorite part of school, and he finds himself "under the spell of her wild beauty and in the snare of her enthusiasms."

Jess's mother rouses him from his drawing and sends him outside to milk Miss Bessie. Meanwhile, his older sisters return home from shopping before their father, who works "from sunup until well past dark." His father's beat-up pickup truck arrives, and May Belle joyfully runs to greet him. Jess suffers a moment of envy, thinking how lucky she is to receive their father's attention and hugs. "He had been thought too big for that since the day he was born," the narrator notes. His father has no greeting for Jess beyond criticizing his lateness in doing his chores.

The next morning Jess goes out early to run again, and this time he finds an unknown person sitting on the pasture fence. Jess looks over the short, raggedy hair and cutoff jeans and "couldn't honestly tell whether it was a girl or a boy." The person is Leslie Burke, a girl his own age and his new neighbor. She introduces herself, even shakes hands, and tries to make friends, but Jess isn't interested in making her acquaintance. He decides to milk the cow instead of running, and Leslie disappears.


The difference in the way Jess is treated and the way his sisters are treated becomes clearer in this chapter. Jess works hard but receives no thanks or praise; on the other hand his sisters do no work but receive no reprimand for their laziness. Nor does Jess receive affection from either of his parents, although he clearly longs for his father's positive attention. In a case of situational irony, Jess does not receive praise for the one thing at which he feels he excels: drawing. Instead his father, teachers, and classmates scorn his love of art, which is not accepted as a "manly" pursuit.

Miss Edmunds is the exception to this attitude, and Jess's crush on her may result in part from the support and encouragement she provides when no one else does. Her presence in the school is unsettling, as she doesn't fit in with the other residents of Lark Creek, for whom conformity is important and expected. Miss Edmunds is a representative of the wider world and viewpoints different from those held by the rural, conservative, and generally isolated population around her. By singing "hippie" songs of peace and bucking conformity in her clothing choices and general appearance, Miss Edmunds tries by example to break down barriers for the young minds at Lark Creek Elementary—to show them life has more to offer than what they see around them in their small, rural world.

Regarding Miss Edmund's jeans, Jess observes the townspeople are slow "to accept what everyone else could see by their TV's was OK anywhere else." Repeated references to television become more noticeable as the story continues. Its influence is pervasive in both the community and in Jess's family. Momma uses the television to soothe herself after an exhausting day in the hot kitchen, while her husband sleeps in front of the television on the weekends. Jess often compares activities around him to television, imagining May Belle laughing "like a live audience on TV" and picturing himself running "like a stop-action TV shot." The author includes these references to show how dependent the people have become on their television sets and how readily they believe whatever they see on them. Television pervades the existence of nearly everyone in Lark Creek, and it provides a standard of what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of behavior. In this case Jess can see from TV that jeans are OK, but the conservative folk of Lark Creek have not yet caught up to the curve when it comes to women wearing pants to work.

Chapter 2 also gives readers the first taste of Leslie's being judged according to gender roles. Jess questions whether she is a boy or a girl on the basis of her haircut and clothes. She does not conform to expectations, and Jess's instinct at this point is to turn away from her and not engage.

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