Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The protagonist’s witnessing of the other woman’s throwing of an object off the bridge is the single event in this story. It hardly seems enough to justify a complete story, even one as short as this. However, it is not the event that supplies the story’s central interest, as bizarre as that event may be; rather, it is the protagonist’s reaction to what she sees or thinks that she sees. Her reaction seems more than just that of the horrified response of a bystander witnessing a possible tragedy. Her feeling that a baby may have been thrown into the river seems somehow personal; when she confronts the young woman, she feels a “new emptiness” and half believes that something has died for her. This is thus a story in which the motivation of the protagonist who observes the action is more important than that of the young woman who is at the center of the action. The real mystery of the story is thus not what is in the bundle that the young woman throws but why the protagonist reacts as she does.

What makes “The Bridge” challenging is that in spite of the dramatic event at its center, it does not, at first glance, appear to be a story that communicates any strong thematic significance. Like the woman in the story, readers are inclined to ask what happened. Moreover, as readers expect a story to have some thematic meaning, they ask what it all means. Finally, as human beings interested in other human beings, they ask what can we know about these...

(The entire section is 576 words.)