Bridge to Terabithia

by Katherine Paterson

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How do the early chapters reveal differences and similarities between Jess's and Leslie's families?

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Although both families live in the same poor rural town and are neighbors, the first four chapters of the story reveal vast differences between Jesse's and Leslie's families. Let's consider those differences as they arise.

Chapter 1 reveals a lot about Jesse's family: with all his sisters and Jesse himself constantly playing and making noise, their mother is often in a bad mood and tends to fuss at them and give them commands impatiently. They are very poor, and Jesse wishes his family would use better grammar--to say "I don't have any money" rather than "I ain't got no money." Ellie and Brenda, his older sisters, are silly and self-centered. May Belle, younger than Jesse, is sweet but unintentionally annoying, and Joyce Anne is a toddler.

Chapter 2 shows that Jesse's dad isn't interested in Jesse's drawings, and that he wants his son to be masculine and tough instead. In that same chapter, we see Jesse's mom dismiss Jesse's favorite teacher as a "hippie." It's clear that Jesse's parents don't connect with him. He aches for the affection his father won't give him, and the narrator sums up his sad family situation like this:

"Sometimes he felt so lonely among all these females - even the one rooster had died, and they hadn't yet gotten another. With his father gone from sunup until well past dark, who was there to know how he felt?"

In Chapter 3, although we realize that Leslie is an only child, unlike Jesse, we infer that Leslie's family's living situation is just as poor as Jesse's from the way that Leslie is dressed worse than her classmates:

"Leslie was still dressed in the faded cutoffs and the blue undershirt. She had sneakers on her feet but no socks."

(But in Chapter 4, we find out that Leslie's family used to be wealthy and actually chose to move out to the country to reassess what they find important in life! There's a major difference--Jesse's sisters would probably be overjoyed to have wealth; they would never give it up voluntarily.)

From the friendly way that Leslie behaves toward Jesse on that first day of school in Chapter 3, despite Jesse's coolness toward her, we can also tell that Leslie's family environment must be very different from Jesse's. How else would she have learned friendliness? Jesse thinks to himself, "Lord, the girl had no notion of what you did and didn't do." It's true: Leslie's unconventional willingness to run with the boys and sit next to them must have been learned from her family. They must have taught her to pursue her own interests (like running) rather than just doing whatever the other girls are doing at school. In that way, Leslie's family must be very different from Jesse's: his parents don't show friendliness or warmth to him at all.

In Chapter 4, we learn that Leslie's family lived in a fancier suburban area (Arlington) before moving to Jesse's town, and like I mentioned, we find out that they used to be wealthy and made a choice to live more simply. That means they've had vastly different life experiences than Jesse's family has. It's clear that Leslie's family still has money saved up (she tells Jesse that money isn't a problem for her family) and yet they don't have a television in their house! This frugal-by-choice lifestyle that Leslie's family leads is vastly different from Jesse's family, whose members struggle hard to earn any scraps of luxury they can, like new clothes for the older girls to wear on the first day of school.

Lastly, as Chapter 4 comes to a close and we see Leslie's vivid creativity in inventing Terabithia, we realize that Leslie's family must have encouraged her imagination. Jesse's family, in contrast, discourages his imaginative drawings and wants him to focus on getting his chores done.

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