Bridge to Terabithia Courage
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He would like to show his drawings to his dad, but he didn't dare. When he was in first grade, he had told his dad that he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. He'd thought his dad would be pleased. He wasn't. (2.13)
Poor Jess. At May Belle's age he had larger ambitions than just being a runner, and his dad squashed them. This did more damage to Jess than his dad probably knew. Even though Jess still loved to draw, it became more of a secret thing, and even the encouragement of Miss Edmunds wasn't enough to get Jess to defy his father and be more open about it. It's his friendship with Leslie that helps him recapture that desire to make art.
Jess's face went hot. "Sure," he said recklessly. "Why not?" He turned deliberately toward Leslie. "Wanna run?" he asked.
"Sure." She was grinning. "Why not?"
"You ain't scared to let a girl race are you, Fulcher?" (3.64-66)
Jess turns the tables on his frenemy Gary and accuses him of cowardice so that Leslie can compete in the race too. This shows us how the merest accusation of being fearful can be a powerful motivator. Nobody wants to look like a coward, and sometimes that makes people act foolishly instead of bravely. Here, though, it's definitely brave and right to let Leslie run in the race. We're all about equality, and hope you are too.
Lord, he was such a coward. How could he be all in a tremble just listening to Mrs. Myers read about it? He was worse a baby than Joyce Ann. His dad expected him to be a man. And here he was letting some girl who wasn't even ten yet scare the liver out of him by just telling what it was like to sight-see under water. Dumb, dumb, dumb. (4.43)
Here we have this really interesting connection of manliness to bravery. There's a stereotype here that "be[ing] a man" means not being a "coward." Jess compares himself unfavorably with Leslie, who he calls "some girl," because she's describing something he sees as brave because he'd be scared to do it himself. What Jess doesn't realize yet is that men get scared, too – and that's totally OK. Everyone does from time to time. He shouldn't be embarrassed about it – sometimes there are good reasons to listen to your fear and hesitate.
"You're just yeller, Jesse Aarons. If you wasn't yeller, you'd beat somebody up if they took your little sister's Twinkies." (5.16)
By calling Jess "yellow," May Belle means that he's a coward. (For more on why "yellow" has this connotation, check out the article about it on Stumblerz). Because she's so little, she can't fight this battle herself. The implication here is that if she were her own big brother (we know, that's confusing), she would beat people up for stealing a sibling's snack. Her anger doesn't let her see that there's no way Jess could successfully beat up a seventh grader.
"We must have courage, my king. It may indeed be so."
They swung silently across the creek bed. On the farther bank, Leslie picked up two sticks. "Thy sword, sire," she whispered. (7.32-33)
Leslie gives Jess courage here, as she often does. As you can see with this quote, they take that courage into Terabithia to face their imaginary foes. Although the enemies are imaginary, they feel no less real. Jess and Leslie must arm themselves, remind themselves of their place as rulers, and defend their lands. They have the same kind of attitude inside Terabithia and as they do outside it.
"Leslie, I swear – I'd go in there if I could." He really thought he would, too. "You ain't scared of her, are you, Leslie?" He didn't mean it in a daring way, he was just dumbfounded by the idea of Leslie being scared. (7.70)
Amazingly, Jess discovers that Leslie feels fear too. While this sounds a little bit like him heckling Gary from earlier in the book – about letting girls run races – the narrator specifies here that this has a different tone. Jess is so amazed that Leslie could feel "scared" that he inadvertently taunts her into going in and facing Janice. Where she'd often given him courage in the past, here he inspires it in her.
For Jess the fear of the crossing rose with the height of the creek. Leslie never seemed to hesitate, so Jess could not hang back. But even though he could force his body to follow after, his mind hung back, wanting to cling to the crab apple tree the way Joyce Ann might cling to Momma's skirt. (9.50)
Although Jess compares his desire to "cling to the crab apple tree" to his baby sister "cling[ing] to Momma's skirt," which could be seen as a kind of put-down or negative – not very "manly" – it's actually pretty rational. Jess is right and Leslie is wrong, as later events unfortunately show. The creek is really dangerous. While courage and bravery seem positive and fear seems negative, too much courage can be worse than not having enough. Courage needs to be tempered with reason and rationality.
It wasn't so much that he minded telling Leslie that he was afraid to go; it was that he minded being afraid. It was as though he had been made with a great piece missing… Lord, it would be better to be born without an arm than to go through life with no guts. (9.67)
Jess worries that there's something wrong with him because of the amount of fear he feels – like he was born without the genetic code for bravery or something. Jess's feelings here are reminiscent of his complex concerns about getting Leslie the right Christmas present. He's not worried about how he'll appear to the world – he's being pushed by a powerful inner compulsion, which, in this case, is shame and upset-ness that he's afraid at all.
You know something weird?
What? Leslie asked.
I was scared to come to Terabithia this morning. (11.20-22)
Here Jess is trying for a do-over, having an imaginary/dream conversation with Leslie in which he tries to alter the future and confess his fear to her, perhaps in order to alter the course of future events. Even though he worried so much about confessing his fear about going to Terabithia during the storm, he never got a chance to do it. We can see how he would blame himself for her death because of that. In this conversation, he tries to make that right by admitting his fear and what also seems like a little guilt.
"I'm scared, Jesse. I'm too scared."
"'Course you're scared. Anybody'd be scared. You just gotta trust me, OK? I'm not gonna let you fall, May Belle. I promise you." (13.21-22)
Jess finally realizes that it's all right to "be scared," and tells May Belle that too. There are some circumstances that would scare everybody. Even though they're both afraid, that doesn't stop him from acting bravely. We could argue that he actually acts more bravely because he's determined to deal with the circumstances and overcome his fear.
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