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Bridge to Terabithia | Study Guide

Katherine Paterson

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Bridge to Terabithia | Chapter 7 : The Golden Room | Summary



After Christmas Bill is finished with his writing and starts repairs on their house, asking Leslie to help. She loves the time they spend together, but it also means she can't spend time with Jess. He tries to go to Terabithia on his own, "but it was no good. It needed Leslie to make the magic." At home, Jess's mother keeps him busy with chores and scolds him for drawing when he should be chopping wood. Jess becomes jealous as Leslie gushes about becoming better friends with her father. "He ought to have friends his own age and let her have hers," Jess thinks, finding it "weird" that Bill wants to be friends with his daughter. Leslie eventually notices the tension and confronts Jess. She asks why he doesn't like Bill and why he doesn't come to her house anymore. Jess peevishly says she is "always busy," and she responds with exasperation: "You could offer to help, you know." Jess feels stupid—the solution was obvious but he hadn't thought of it.

As Jess begins to help, he and Bill become better friends. Jess is handy with repairs, unlike Bill, so his contributions are valuable and appreciated. During these working hours, the three characters chat, tell stories, play records, sing, talk about world events, and listen to Leslie's mother, Judy, read poetry aloud. Jess lets "himself be wrapped warmly around in the feel of the Burkes' brilliance," enjoying every minute. They paint the living room gold and view their work with pride; "It was gorgeous." Once the work ends, Leslie and Jess go to Terabithia again, fighting imaginary duels to rid their kingdom of intruders, then celebrating their triumph in the sacred grove.

A few days later Leslie finds Janice Avery crying in the bathroom at school. Jess encourages Leslie to comfort her. He reasons "If she was an animal predator, we'd be obliged to try to help her," referring to the Burkes' support of whales and other endangered species. A skeptical Leslie agrees to try and emerges some time later smiling. She informs Jess on the bus ride that Janice's father beats her, and her "so-called friends Wilma and Bobby Sue" have gossiped about it to the entire seventh grade. Leslie happily states, "Thanks to you, I now have one and one-half friends at Lark Creek School."

That night, May Belle admits she has been spying on Jess and Leslie; she knows about their secret place in the woods. Jess makes her swear not to follow them again but still feels uneasy. He worries his life is "delicate as a dandelion" that could be blown away in a single puff of air.


The contrast between the Burkes and the Aaronses is made clearer in this chapter. In Jess's family the parents and children have definite, separate roles. The parents set the rules, and the children obey; they are not friends and do not act as such. Jess finds it strange that Bill wants to be friends with Leslie because this kind of a relationship isn't possible in his own family or in the other families he knows. The Burkes, though, view family as more of a shared experience rather than a strict hierarchy. Leslie is treated as an equal by her parents, with virtually the same respect and consideration they would give an adult. Jess gets a lesson in adult problem solving rather than childish jealousy when Leslie suggests he come help paint instead of pouting and feeling left out. As Jess helps Bill and Leslie, he begins to understand how an adult can be friends with a child and how adults and children can learn from one another. Even Jess has something he can teach Bill—how to fix things around the house. His skill is appreciated, too, unlike at his own home, where his labor is taken for granted.

The golden room represents a wondrous time of growth and friendship, of deepening relationships, and of new understandings. It also reflects in its shining glory idealized family relations: respect, sharing, helping, growing, and enjoying activities together. This is a new type of family interaction for Jess; he feels included and valued. At the same time he is learning more about the world through the Burkes' "brilliance": their poetry, records, and stories. These lessons and values are as glorious as the bright sun reflected in the newly painted golden room.

This is not to say the Burkes are ideal parents; they certainly have their faults. Bill and Judy are rather absentee adults, wrapped up in their own work and personal concerns, leaving Leslie to drift through life at times. Leslie blossoms under her father's direct and constant attention and is delighted to spend more time with him. It seems Leslie has wanted his attention all along, as quickly she puts aside trips to Terabithia when her father asks for her help in the real world.

In the incident with Janice Avery Jess teaches Leslie a lesson in compassion—for human predators, not just animals. In an instance of role reversal, Leslie is nervous about approaching Janice, whereas Jess is showing his bravery by encouraging Leslie to help. Janice's admission that her father beats her and that her friends have betrayed her casts her in a more sympathetic light. Perhaps Jess sensed there was more to Janice in Chapter 5 when he felt sorry for her humiliation; now her story is laid bare to all. Janice's unfortunate life shows even villains and bullies have unknown pain and troubles and may be deserving of compassion.

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