I’m sure any reader of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey would put himself in the role of Brother Juniper, looking for connections and commonalities between the five people who fell to their deaths when the bridge collapsed—or at least, between any of the characters that reappear throughout the three main sections of the novel. The one that struck me was the number of parent-child relationships between the characters (really the overwhelming type of relationship), and the fact that so many of those relationships were similar.
The first victim of the bridge examined falls the most clearly into this category: the Marquesa de Montemayor. Her defining trait is her relationship with her daughter, Doña Clara. The Marquesa loves her daughter desperately, needily, and she has been rejected by Clara, who went so far as to accept a marriage that would take her from Peru to Spain to get away from her mother. Left alone in Lima the Marquesa becomes a joke among the aristocracy, a lonely drunk who talks to herself, whose only activity is writing beautiful letters to Clara hoping for some return of affection. She knows her feelings are unfair, but she can’t help it:
…[S]he knew that she too sinned and that though her love for her daughter was vast enough to include all the colors of love, it was not without a shade of tyranny: she loved her daughter not for her daughter’s sake, but for her own. She longed to free herself from this ignoble bond; but the passion was too fierce to cope with. And then on that green balcony a strange warfare would shake the hideous old lady, a singularly futile struggle against a temptation to which she would never have the opportunity of succumbing. How could she rule her
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