While Mrs. Bridge begins as a stereotype and remains throughout the novel an object of Connell’s satire, she emerges as a fully rounded, thoroughly credible character by the end of the book. She is as much the object of Connell’s wry compassion as of his eye for the ironic detail. Despite her upper-middle-class perspective, Mrs. Bridge entertains doubts about both her own character and her value system. She makes definite, if futile, attempts to break outside the norms of her Kansas City circle by learning Spanish, taking painting lessons, and working with charities. She wears gloves, however, while distributing used clothing to the poor; in her painting of Leda and the swan, she clothes “Leda in a flowered dressmaker bathing suit” like her own; and she is easily distracted by her husband or children when she works with the set of Spanish records. Nevertheless, Mrs. Bridge possesses the virtue of recognizing that she has “no confidence in her life,” and her efforts to find something in which to believe give her dignity. Like her friend and foil Grace Barron, Mrs. Bridge wants to be a person and not simply an automaton reacting unthinkingly to circumstances. She shares this characteristic with her three children, even though she does not recognize the fact.
After Mrs. Bridge herself, Connell focuses attention most sharply on Ruth, Carolyn, and Douglas, whose rebellions against their mother’s values point up the bleakness of her situation. Most completely successful in breaking away from the Kansas City norms is Ruth, who ends up in New York as an assistant editor on a fashion magazine. Like her brother and sister, she...
(The entire section is 671 words.)