Response to The Bridge of San Luis Rey
By Thornton Wilder ©1927
[A novel consisting of Four Novels]
This is a short–but full and fascinating–novel about the lives of the five people who happened to be on the old, old bridge on the day that it fell, killing all of them. The narrator tells us about Brother Juniper, who was in Peru living with the Indians and witnessed the accident. He believed that we either live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan.
Brother Juniper researches and records the life stories of the Marquesa, Pepita, Esteban the twin of Manuel, Uncle Pio, and Don Jaime the little son of Perichole. Each of the “four novels” tells the life story of one or two of the five in complete detail. But his book about these people, and about his judgment of their morals and character, is considered heretical, and he and his book are burned.
The narrator concludes that there is a certain grace, an amazing grace (my words), that accompanies living and dying, and this grace springs from death to later bless those that remain.
The last words of the story are the words of Madre Maria: “Even now,” she thought, “almost no one remembers Esteban and Pepita, but myself. Camilla alone remembers her Uncle Pio and her son; this woman, her mother. But soon we shall die and all memory of these five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”