Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The thematic point of the novel emerges in the episode in which Connell’s protagonist picks up an unidentified book by Joseph Conrad and reads a passage, underlined by her husband’s unambitious uncle Shannon Bridge, about the capacity of some people to live without being aware of life’s potentiality. Because of her dissatisfaction with her own life, Mrs. Bridge does not fit this paradigm exactly. She is aware that living may have more to it than the typical Kansas City society matron recognizes, but she never breaks through to that possible meaning.

The sharply detailed, episodic narrative structure of Mrs. Bridge focuses attention on the particulars of each situation and on the process of social change at work in the United States which provides Connell with the context in which to explore Mrs. Bridge as a character. Changing American mores, seen in the novel most clearly in the areas of sexual expression and race relations, explain the gap in communication which opens up between Mrs. Bridge and her children. Her inability to change with the times makes Mrs. Bridge an object of satire. It is also a mark of her humanity.

Despite the use of Conrad to establish the thematic point of the novel, art and artists do not provide the answer for which Mrs. Bridge is looking. Neither does religion. Indeed, other than the fact that she ought to be searching, Connell provides few clues in the book about what she should be looking for.