The Bridge of San Luis Rey: Character Profiles
Brother Juniper: is the "outsider" monk who conducts a "scientific examination" of the lives of those who perish when the bridge of San Luis Rey collapses. He does so attempting to justify God's ways to humanity-to "prove" faith in God's providence, when so much in life seems to belie it. His investigation leads him to arrive at what are widely assumed to be "orthodox" conclusions-yet his work is ultimately judged heretical, and he is burned at the stake: ostensibly, within the text, for the crime of heresy; but truly for failing to grasp the importance of love.
Dora Maria, Marquesa de Montemayor: An eccentric noblewoman of Peru who writes prolifically to her estranged daughter, Clara. Although she drafts her letters in the guise of love, the letters actually serve to reinforce the Marquesa as an egotist-ironically, a charge she levels against others but not against herself. Only the night before her death does the Marquesa begin to grasp the possibility of true love when she sees it in a letter written by her child companion, Pepita. The Marquesa resolves to begin a new life-but her resolution comes too late.
Pepita: An orphan who has been raised in the abbey of Dora Maria as the abbess' eventual successor, but who has been "loaned" to the Marquesa as a companion.
Camila Perichole: "The Perichole," as she is most often called, is a famous actress, trained to be so by Uncle Pio (see below). She spends her life in pursuit of social status, thinking it will bring her happiness, but it does not; by the novel's end, she thinks of herself, "I have no heart. I fail everybody. They love me and I fail them" (p. 103). Although she does not die in the fall of the bridge, she comes close to "dying" in a metaphorical sense-but she is "saved" through the gracious ministrations of Madre Maria, who welcomes her in love even when the Perichole feels she does not deserve it.
The Abbess Madre Maria del Pilar: The reverend mother of a convent in Lima, who is a woman ahead of her time, with dreams of empowering women to do more for themselves than society allows. Wilder's initial presentation of Dora Maria is reminiscent of the way in which George Bernard Shaw or T. S. Eliot present saints in their works Saint Joan and Murder in the Cathedral, respectively: as sudden inbreakings of the extraordinary and progressive into the ordinary and moribund world. Wilder writes of Dora Maria, "Such persons are raised up in every age; they obstinately insist on transporting their grains of wheat and they derive a certain exhilaration from the sneers of the bystanders. 'How queerly they dress!' we cry. 'How queerly they dress!'" (p. 28). The implication of all three authors is that we are most often blind to those who could do the most to move us, as a species, forward. When Pepita dies, the Abbess feels as though "she [has] torn an idol from her heart" (p. 102). Yet she gains more, for reflections on the deaths at the bridge, and her interactions with the Perichole and the Marquesa's daughter, lead her to the core revelation of the novel, that "love will have been enough" (p. 107), not all our plans and work, to give life and the world meaning.
Esteban and Manuel: These two orphan boys are twins who become inseparable, bound by a close love, as they grow older. When Manuel falls in a romanticized love with the Perichole, however, a rift erupts between them, a rift never quite healed before Manuel dies of an infected leg wound. Esteban must learn the hard lesson that he must go on living, and loving-but he learns it only just before perishing in the collapse of the bridge.
Captain Alvarado: The celebrated, seafaring explorer, known to all in Lima, who (as we learn from one of the Marquesa's letters) lost a beloved daughter. It is he who teaches Esteban the importance of learning to live and love through grief.
Uncle Pio: An elderly man who has devoted his life to pursuing beauty in literature, the theater, and women. He is rumored to be the father of the Perichole; certainly, he has molded her into the celebrated actress she becomes. He is unable, however, to truly love the Perichole; her love for her is more akin to that of Manuel's than an honest, loving relationship. He dies taking the Perichole's son, Jaime, across the bridge, intending to mold him as he did his mother.