The Bridges of Madison County Themes
by Robert James Waller

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The Bridges of Madison County Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The poem by William Butler Yeats that Francesca quotes in the novel — the line about the white moths on the wing — is titled "The Song of Wandering Aengus" and could serve as an extended metaphor for the book as a whole. It is about a wanderer who once hooked from a stream a silver trout that turned into a "glimmering girl," and now that he is old and finished with wandering he wants to find her again and spend his time until it is gone picking the silver and golden apples of the moon and sun. The themes of wandering, a chance discovery of the right "girl," wishing to spend time with her but not knowing how to, and the poem's lament for lost opportunities fairly well sum up the general themes and tone of the book.

The Bridges of Madison County is a novel about memory and loss and sacrifice; it is also about desire and dreams and loneliness; and it is even about love and sexual satisfaction and contentment. This set of often contradictory subjects makes for good popular fiction , especially of the romance genre. It is easy to forget that the largest portion of the book focuses on the blissful few days that Francesca and Robert spend together and not on the years of longing that follow. The melancholy tone of the narrative is more an afterthought than a central part of the story. While Robert and Francesca are together they satisfy each other's needs, emotionally and sexually. Moreover, Francesca seems to be able to use those few days constructively in her later life, to fashion her memories into a sustaining event that eases the pain of loneliness and isolation which Robert released by his presence. It is Robert who is unable to transcend their brief romance and who dies a sad and broken man. The experience of the two main characters seems to support the usual cliche about the ability of women to cope with loss and the inability...

(The entire section is 492 words.)