The Bridge of San Luis Rey: Characters & Quotes

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Interested in the lives of the characters in 'The Bridge of San Luis Rey'? Look no further! In this lesson, you'll meet some of the key players and get a little insight into their personalities through the use of quotes.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey won the Pulitzer Prize for its telling of the deaths of five people in the summer of 1714. Though the book starts with the chaos and tragedy of the bridge's collapse with this sentence: ''On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.'' it is the characters themselves and the study set out by a Franciscan missionary that makes up the bulk of the rest of the tale.

That's why the characters in Wilder's book are so important. Rather than focusing on the bridge's collapse in its entirety, Wilder chooses to study the lives of the five victims through the eyes of Brother Juniper. Let's meet Brother Juniper and some of the main characters at the heart of The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

Characters in The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Brother Juniper

Brother Juniper is a Franciscan missionary and an eyewitness to the bridge collapse. Believing that the accident is a divine act of God, Juniper sets out to study the lives of the victims over a six-year period. Once he has completed his research, he compiles the data into a huge book. To say the book was not well-received would be an understatement: both he and the book are burned. Ouch. Somehow, a secret copy is salvaged at a local library.

Brother Juniper's famous quote, ''Why did this happen to those five?'', sparks the entire purpose of his studies into the lives of the victims. Juniper believed that the bridge tragedy was the plan of the universe, of God, and he set out to prove it with countless interviews and a final, giant book of his findings.

The Marquesa de Montemayor (Dona Maria) and Pepita

A fascinating character with a rich personality, Dona Maria was both highly religious and superstitious. Her daughter, Dona Clara, received an abundance of her mother's attention, some through the elder woman's handwritten letters. The daughter, however, feels suffocated by her mother's affection. Dona Maria overcompensates in her attention toward her daughter due to the lack of love she received from both her own parents and her love interests. Dona Maria is returning from a shrine, in prayer for her daughter, when the bridge collapses and she is killed.

Though not a direct quote from Dona Maria, this thought from Wilder's book perfectly summarizing the woman's desire to love and be loved in return: ''She wanted her daughter for herself; she wanted to hear her say: 'You are the best of all possible mothers'; she longed to hear her whisper: 'Forgive me.'''

Pepita is the smart and thoughtful travel companion of Dona Maria. She works at the orphanage where Esteban and Manuel were left as infants. To have new experiences and increase her education, she travels with Dona Maria to the shrine. She perishes alongside her when the bridge falls.

Esteban and Manuel

Esteban and Manuel are identical twin brothers who, like twins do, communicate in their own special language and can feel each other's thoughts. The boys were abandoned on the doorstep on a convent and raised there together. Once of age, Manuel falls in love with Camila Perichole, which causes strife and division between the brothers. The brothers are eventually separated by death, but not because of the bridge tragedy. Manuel suffers a deep cut to his leg, which becomes infected and leads to his death. Esteban, overcome by grief, begins going by his brother's name, which causes concern among those who know him. Esteban agrees to join a sea voyage, a move to get his mind off his troubles, just before he falls to his death on the bridge.

When the Captain of the voyage is trying to talk some sense into Esteban, he says: ''We do what we can. We push on, Esteban, as best we can. It isn't for long, you know. Time keeps going by. You'll be surprised at the way time passes.''

This is a rather poignant statement about overcoming loss and marching ahead because time is short.

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