Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One of John Cheever’s favorite subjects is the middle class, and the locale of many of his stories is New York City and the suburbs north of it. His stories often focus on the eccentricities and failures of these people, and on how they endure. The major motif of “The Angel of the Bridge” is fear, and it is pictured as both an eccentricity and a failure. The story presents eccentricity as odd behavior in the early scene in which an elderly woman is committed to doing something that the young normally do: ice-skating. It is soon clear that the narrator’s mother’s odd behavior includes her phobic reaction to flying. The narrator and his older brother are also eccentric in their respective phobias. The fears of all three have two things in common besides their eccentricity: all three are afraid of heights and—if their disinclination to talk about their phobias is any sign—they regard their fears as personal failures.

In the narrator’s case, his fear of heights not only is triggered by bridges but also signals a change in his vision of the world from a romantic to a terrifying one. Before the change, he was safe in his habits and regarded aberrant behavior as partially distasteful, partially amusing. The world was beautiful because his life was orderly, if somewhat boring. After the change, the world seems chaotic to him, a failure resting on his own failure to take in stride such implicit dangers in it as high bridges. His comfortable...

(The entire section is 428 words.)