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Bridge to Terabithia | Study Guide

Katherine Paterson

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Bridge to Terabithia | Chapter 4 : Rulers of Terabithia | Summary



The races at school come to a halt when Leslie continues to beat the boys. Jess takes consolation that if he can't be the fastest runner in the fifth grade, neither can Gary Fulcher, and once again, Jess delights in Miss Edmunds's Friday music class. As Miss Edmunds plays the guitar and the students sing about living in harmony, hand in hand, "Free to be you and me," Jess catches Leslie's eye and smiles at her. The ice is broken, and he decides to be friends after all. They sit together on the bus ride home, and she tells him about the privileged, suburban school she attended in Arlington. She misses her friends and doesn't like Lark Creek, but explains her family all agreed to move to the country. They gave up their wealthy lifestyle to farm and "think about what's important," she says. Jess considers this idea "the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard" because it's too difficult to earn a living farming, but then he understands the Burkes don't need to earn a living—they're already wealthy.

Back at school the next week, Mrs. Myers reads aloud Leslie's excellent essay about a hobby, scuba diving. She is a talented writer, and the realism of her essay takes Jess's breath away—literally. He nearly has a panic attack, frightened at the idea of being underwater and feeling like a coward because of his fear. Mrs. Myers then instructs the class to watch a TV program about Jacques Cousteau and write an essay about it. Leslie sheepishly admits her family doesn't have a television, and her classmates tease her until she cries. At the end of the day Leslie gets on the bus and sits in the back seat, where the older bullies usually sit. Jess tries to rescue Leslie and in the process insults Janice Avery to her face, making her more of an enemy than ever.

Leslie and Jess make plans to hang out, but first they have to bribe May Belle to leave them alone. Leslie gives her a set of paper dolls, and then she and Jess go exploring. They find an old rope by a creek and swing across to the other side, where Leslie proposes they create a magical land they alone will rule. "We need a place ... just for us," she says. They name the land Terabithia and promise to keep it secret. They spend time there in the afternoons reading books, dreaming up revenge plots against Janice Avery, and telling stories. Terabithia also has a dark pine forest, which Leslie dubs the sacred grove and declares they will enter it "only at times of greatest sorrow or of greatest joy."

Time passes, and fall turns to winter. Jess learns more about Leslie and her parents, Judy and Bill. They are worldly, highly educated writers who love books and music. Jess begins to understand how different their family is from the other people he knows, but he doesn't care. "Leslie was more than his friend," the narrator shares. "She was his other, more exciting self."


The themes of conformity, friendship, and courage all are important in this chapter. Leslie represents the highest ideals of all three: she does not conform simply for the sake of fitting in, she wants nothing more than to be a loyal friend, and her courage is unquestioned in her obvious lack of fear. For these and other qualities, Jess views her as "his other, more exciting self." Leslie is a model of the type of person Jess would like to be.

Jess despises the fear he feels while Mrs. Myers reads Leslie's essay about scuba diving. He calls himself a coward and a baby. This negative self-talk shows his lack of self-confidence and his desire to embody the "manly" quality of courage. For Jess fear is shameful rather than a natural, human response to danger. He does not yet understand real courage means acting despite fear, rather than not feeling fear at all.

Jess has no real friends at school, whereas Leslie tries to make friends with anyone who will accept her. Unfortunately for her, that is no one at Lark Creek Elementary. Leslie has left behind a group of friends she says she misses, and it is difficult for her to be without close companionship. It is a real breakthrough when Jess decides to be friends with Leslie even though she is a social misfit. Leslie has finally found a social in-road at Lark Creek, while Jess has finally found a true friend and an opening into a greater world beyond their small town. They both embrace the friendship enthusiastically, holding nothing back once they've committed to being friends.

Interestingly, Jess's decision to befriend Leslie comes only after she admits she has no television. He feels compassion for her and stands up for her on the bus, making himself a champion of the underdog—perhaps because he himself feels like an underdog in life and perhaps because he has something she doesn't. Despite his desire to fit in, he isn't afraid to stand up to bullies like Janice Avery, though he doesn't yet recognize his real courage in doing so. Reinforcing the themes of both courage and conformity, as well as friendship, Jess's choice to befriend Leslie is a daring act of defiance against conformity. He may not be able to predict the consequences of making friends with Leslie, but "What the heck?" he decides in his 10-year-old mind. Leslie and her family are intriguing enough to make this social risk worth the gamble for Jess.

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