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Jess Aarons, the protagonist of the story, met Leslie Burke. Her fire and her imagination challenged Jess to look beyond the small existence that had been defined for him by his family and their impoverished situation. Through conversations with Leslie, and later with her parents, Jess learned to look outward and far into other worlds both real and imaginary. The conflict in “Bridge to Terabithia” was found within Jess as he struggled to embrace the many new ideas that Leslie shared with him, and thereby find the courage to be himself and to value himself, in his own life, rather than to have his reality determined by those around him, such as his parents, sisters, and schoolmates.
The unexpected death of Leslie provided Jess with the ultimate test of his courage. She had helped him to find his inner strength, but he had to make the choice to use it. In the end, Jess had to decide whether to go back to his life the way it was, or to honor Leslie’s memory by keeping alive the story of Terabithia.
Jesse is in conflict with the expectations placed upon him by his family. He has a strained relationship with his family, one that is nonexistent until almost the end of the novel. Jesse is not comfortable in his own shoes, as he always hides his love of art. Jesse also faces an internal conflict about the fear that he seems to have about everything. Leslie is in conflict with those at Lark Creek Elementary. Because she is from the city and does not care much what people think of her, her classmates find her different.
Leslie is introduced, and she and Jesse become friends after first racing in the schoolyard. Leslie and Jesse create Terabithia, an imaginary land where they escape their everyday lives, defeat their enemies, and cope with their fears. Jesse and Leslie exchange gifts at Christmas: Jesse giving Leslie a dog, and Leslie giving Jesse expensive art supplies. Jesse and Leslie face a bully who steals from May Belle. Miss Edmunds takes Jesse to Washington to an art museum, and Jesse does not invite Leslie to go.
Jesse returns from his trip to Washington with Miss Edmunds to find that Leslie has drowned. Leslie’s family decides to move away from Lark Creek, leaving Jesse with Leslie’s paints and art supplies. Jesse begins to cope with his struggle with Leslie’s death, and he tries to overcome his fears. Jesse begins to rebuild the bridge to Terabithia. May Belle becomes the new Queen of Terabithia.
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