Bridge to Terabithia : Chapter 1
Summary of Chapter One: Jesse Oliver Aarons, Jr.
In rural Virginia, ten-year-old Jesse (Jess) jumps out of bed as soon as he hears his father's truck leave the family farm for his job in Washington, D.C. He puts on overalls but no shirt since it is hot, and he intends to run. He tries to sneak out of the house in early morning for his passion of running before he has to do chores. Little sister May Belle is only six. She sleeps with the four-year-old, Joyce Ann. She asks Jess if he is going to run, and he tells her to be quiet so she won't wake the whole house. He is the only boy with four sisters and an overworked mother and father.
Jess runs every day in the summer because he wants to be the fastest boy in fifth grade at Lark Elementary School. He runs around the cow field where Miss Bessie the family cow is eating grass. Last year Jess had won once in the school yard, and now he wants to be at the top. His father would be proud of him. Usually his father is too tired after his day as a laborer to wrestle with him the way he used to. May Belle calls him in to breakfast where his two older sisters, Ellie and Brenda, tease him. Their mother cooks grits for breakfast. The girls wheedle five dollars out of their mother so they can go shopping for school supplies. The girls get what they want, but Jess has to do chores like milk the cow and pick beans. May Belle runs to him with the news that some new people are moving into the Perkins place down the road.
Commentary on Chapter One: Jesse Oliver Aarons, Jr.
Jesse Aarons is the main character. He comes from a large and poor rural farm family in Virginia. He is the only boy and craves the attention of the father who is too tired from his job as a day laborer to play with Jess or to give him positive feedback on his passion for running and for drawing. He is only valued as the male helper on the farm and is saddled with outdoor chores. The girls find him a figure to tease, except for May Belle, who worships her older brother. Jess is essentially alone and a self-starter. He makes do with scanty resources to dream of his ambitions, such as being a great athlete. He thinks his father will notice him if he wins the school races.
The painful poverty of the family comes out in the scene where the two older girls whine and manipulate the anxious mother until she digs money from her purse that she cannot afford to give them. Jess notes their selfish maneuvers and their constant hassling of him as the only boy. Only May Belle acts like a sister to Jess, but he finds her adoration and constant dogging of his steps an annoyance.
Paterson is known for her realistic portrayal of families and the difficult or tragic challenges of children and young adults. She does not sugar coat family life. Immediately, the reader feels sympathy for Jess who only wants to get away from the family for moments of private joy such as running. There are no evil characters, only people shown in the stress of life, being less than ideal. It is sad that by the age of ten, Jess does not expect much out of life, or from other people. He is a survivor, trying to find bits of hope where he can. Like his friend, Leslie, who is introduced in the next chapter, he has to make his own life.
Paterson, Katherine, Bridge to Terabithia, Illustrated by Donna Diamond, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1977.