Bridge to Terabithia

by Katherine Paterson

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Compare and contrast Jess's and Leslie's families. How did their families influence Terabithia's creation?

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Jesse and Leslie have very different families. Jesse is one of five children. His family is poor. He works hard to help them make ends meet, leaving him little time to pursue his interests. His parents are angry, stressed and unsupportive. Leslie is an only child. Her parents are well-off, loving, and supportive. Leslie has the time and the means to explore her passions. Terabithia serves as an escape for Jesse, as well as an outlet for Leslie's active imagination.

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Jesse's family and life are very different from those of his friend, Leslie. Jesse comes from a poor family. He is one of five children, and, whether due to age or gender, much more is expected of him than of his four sisters. He works on the family farm and helps his mother with the household chores. His parents work very hard and are often angry and stressed. They are not very loving or affectionate towards Jesse. His mother often yells at him: "Of course, her temper had been terrible, and she had screamed at Jess all afternoon and was now too tired to fix any supper." His father is hardly ever home and when he is, he is too tired to pay attention to Jesse: "His dad was so tired from the wear and tear of the week and trying to catch up around the place that when he wasn't actually working, he was sleeping in front of the TV."

Both of his parents give preferential treatment to his sisters. His mother lets her daughters go shopping, while Jesse is expected to work all day. His father is cold and distant to Jesse but affectionate towards his other children, which hurts Jesse's feelings: "It made Jess ache inside to watch his dad grab the little ones to his shoulder, or lean down and hug them. It seemed to him that he had been thought too big for that since the day he was born." Jesse enjoys running and drawing, but due to his many responsibilities, he does not have much time to indulge in his hobbies. He cannot afford art supplies, and his father becomes angry when Jesse tells him that he wants to be an artist. The only support or encouragement he receives (before meeting Leslie) is from his teacher, Miss Edmund, who tells him that he is "unusually talented."

Leslie's family is markedly different from Jesse's. Unlike Jesse, Leslie is an only child. Her parents do not struggle financially as Jesse's do. Leslie has both the time and means to pursue her hobbies, which include reading and scuba diving. Her parents are supportive of her interests and enjoy her company. At first, Jesse is envious of Leslie's relationship with her parents, particularly with her father, Bill. His own parents do not pay him much attention and it hurts him to see the way Leslie's parents dote on her. Over time, he grows fond of the Burkes and enjoys helping them fix up their house. Bill praises Jesse, telling him he is "amazing," which is not something he ever hears from his own father.

Both of Leslie's parents are writers and are very intelligent, which sometimes intimidates him. The topics the Burkes discuss are often inaccessible to Jesse, and he is afraid to participate in their conversations because he does not want them to think he is stupid: "he was scared to open his mouth and show once and for all how dumb he was." Although it is not explicitly stated, given the way Jesse's parents speak and their state of living, it is implied that they are less educated than the Burkes are.

Both the Aarons and the Burkes contribute to Jesse and Leslie's creation of Terabithia in different ways. For Jesse, Terabithia serves as a form of escape from his difficult and unhappy life. He works very hard, has many responsibilities, is mistreated by his parents, and has very little time for fun or leisure activities. For Jesse, Terabithia is a welcome distraction from the many hardships in his life. For Leslie, Terabithia has a different meaning. As a result of her parents' love, support, and encouragement, Leslie is confident and adventurous. Terabithia is a manifestation of these qualities and an outlet for her vivid imagination. Terabithia is also an opportunity for Leslie to create something of her own in her new home after moving away from her former school, friends and life in the suburbs.

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Jess and Leslie have very different family lives. Jess's family is much less supportive and lives in relative poverty. Jess works on the farm frequently, and he doesn't have much time for play or for using his imagination. This contributes to his feelings of inferiority and his desire for an escape.

Leslie's family, however, is much more supportive and has encouraged her to try new things and to have adventures. She is confident and exuberant as a result. This support from her parents helps her to try new and exciting things.

Leslie helps to bring Jess out of his shell and gives him a creative outlet for his adventurous spirit. This leads both of them to build Terebithia, a place that Leslie can explore and have exciting adventures in and where Jess can feel like he has importance and can act freely and creatively.

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Both Jess and Leslie come from nuclear families consisting of a mother and father. Jess has four siblings while Leslie has none. One thing that both families seem to have in common is that their children don't fit in very well. Leslie's parents are relatively absent in emotional terms, while Jess's family is unable to relate to or support the boy's passion for art.

One big difference between the families, apart from size, is finances. While Leslie's family is wealthy, Jess's family struggles to make ends meet—a situation which is exacerbated by the large family that Jess's parents need to support. Conversely, Leslie's lack of siblings helps to sustain her family's financial stability.

By creating Terabithia, the duo is able to go to a place where they felt cherished, understood, and fully accepted. It is a place, particularly for Jess, where they can be true to themselves and celebrate who they truly are.

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One similarity between Jess's family and Leslie's family is that both families have a mother and a father present in the family. A difference is that Jess's family has many children while Leslie is an only child. There is a difference in socioeconomic status as well. Jess's family is on the poor end of the spectrum, and Leslie's family is much wealthier by comparison. In terms of parenting styles, Leslie's parents are basically okay with letting Leslie explore how, when, and what she wants to explore. On the other hand, Jess's family doesn't see the value in Jess's natural affinity to the arts. Jess doesn't feel supported in his passions. Terabithia becomes a place for both Jess and Leslie to escape. Neither of them is considered popular or well liked at school. They are both social wallflowers, and Terabithia allows them to be their imaginative selves together. Leslie's parents wouldn't have a problem with Terabithia. They would encourage it and the creative imagination it inspires, so Leslie's part in the creation of Terabithia makes sense. Jess is a slightly different story. Jess longs for something that lets him explore his creative side. He can't do it at home, because his family ridicules him for it. Terabithia becomes a place where Jess can safely express himself and create a world that loves him back for his creativity.

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Jess's parents are worn out and overburdened from poverty and despair. They need help with the farm and work Jess as though he were a farmhand. Jess is artistic which raises conflict with his father who believes physical power is essential for a male.

Leslie's parents are intelligent and irresponsible. As a result Leslie is a free spirit who is allowed to wander physically, psychological and intellectually where her fancy takes her.

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