What does the bridge symbolize in Old Woman Magoun?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The bridge in Mary Wilkins's short story is symbolic of the connection of the protective world which Old Woman has created for her granddaughter with the naturalistic world in which Lily's dissolute and degenerate father dwells. This grandmother, whose daughter died one week after Lily was born, has taken upon herself the protection of the girl, who at fourteen, yet holds a rag doll. 

Old Woman Magoun dared brave him as she did. But Old Woman Magoun had within her a mighty sense of reliance upon herself as being on the right track in the midst of a maze of evil, which gave her courage.

When Lily goes to town, Old Woman prevents her from contact with her father who is an idler at the Barry Ford grocery store. But, one day she is too busy preparing a meal for the men building the new bridge that she must send Lily for her much-needed salt. Along the way, Lily is accosted by Jim Willis and, once at the grocer's, her father sees what a beauty her daughter has become. After these encounters, Lily returns and reports to her grandmother what has occurred, causing Old Woman great consternation.

By crossing this bridge, Lily has entered a dangerous world, a world from which her grandmother has sought to shield Lily. Then, after Lily's father calls upon her, the grandmother realizes that which she has long feared has arrived--"the long expected blow." Now, she herself must take Lily across to the cruel world that demands her. But Old Woman rebels against this "primitive structure" and finds the "gap," just as there is a gap in the bridge built by the slovenly men. For, when the lawyer Mason refuses to adopt Lily, the grandmother has no other resource and feels great despair; so, she takes her granddaughter back across the bridge, but only after allowing the innocent child to eat the "berries of the deadly nightshades" so that she will not be forced to marry Jim Willis and lose all this beautiful innocence. 

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lyndra | eNotes Newbie

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Thank you!  Can I ask another question?  Not sure how this works.  There is a conversation between Sally and Magoun about Lily's color.  Sally says Lily has good color and Magoun replies "with an odd mixture of pride and anxiety," and says it "comes and goes." Does that indicate that Magoun isn't taking good care of Lily all the time?  That Lily's health is not always good?  Not sure what that little moment is all about.  Seems out of character for Magoun not to take good care of her prized grandchild.  Also, some who have critiqued the story say Jim Willis is a good man, who just wants to marry an unusually beautiful 13-year-old - not unusual in Victorian times.  When I read the story, I found him repulsive.  Is my reaction the result of living in modern times, or is Jim Willis the creep I think he is?  Hope it's okay to ask more questions - thank you for your help!

Whoops, one more.  My impression of the story, and I think it's deliberately left to the reader by intention, is that Magoun planned to posion Lily if Mason rejected adopting her.  I feel this was Magoun's decision before she crossed the bridge, and to her sadness, she felt she had to do it, when the adoption plans fell through.  Magoun feels she and Lily are trapped in a male-dominated world, and believes this is the only option left for her innocent granddaughter, who is about to get handed to a pack of wolves. (One reader said Lily's father kissed her too suggestively at the grocery store - is that your impression? I didn't get that.)  Of course I'm entitled to my opinion, but I wonder if my impression indicates too much negativity towards men?  Or, if this is one of the ideas the author prompts the reader to think?  THANKS!

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