The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

India Bridge

India Bridge, who is married to a successful lawyer; she is the mother of three children and is a member of the Kansas City, Missouri, country club society. She is a desperately unhappy woman trapped in a domestic existence that she neither understands nor is able to alter. Her husband, Walter, a workaholic who is almost never home, gives India little love or companionship, instead treating her as incompetent and destroying her self-esteem. Her growing children are a constant source of frustration. A believer in strict racial and class lines and in Victorian pieties, which dictate that proper dress, manners, language, and chaste behavior mark the respectable person, she discovers that her children, members of a different generation, reject her views. When she insists that they conform to her standards, they distance themselves. Her affluence bedevils her. She need not work, and hired workers take care of the household, leaving her bored and feeling useless. Sex also haunts India. Uncertain of her own attitude toward physical desire, apparently unable to realize a mutually satisfying intimate life with Walter, and abnormally worried about her children’s emerging sexual awareness, she is emotionally crippled by sexual anxiety. As India enters middle age, she becomes neurotic, seeing no purpose in her life. She wants psychiatric help, but Walter forbids it. When Walter dies of a heart attack at the end of the story, she is completely adrift. Her children, now adults, have left home, and all she can find for solace are memories of earlier days, when she still had hopes and expectations.

Walter Bridge

Walter Bridge, India’s husband, a narrow-minded and selfish man obsessed by the work ethic. A dominating figure, he makes all the crucial decisions in his home but otherwise cannot be bothered by the ongoing life of the...

(The entire section is 768 words.)