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Study Guide: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

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THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY STUDY GUIDE

LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

The Bridge of San Luis Rey is set in and around Lima, the capital of Peru, in the eighteenth century. It was a beautiful city, inspired by the Catholic religion and entertained by the theater. It was also peopled by eccentrics, like the intensely religious and superstitious Marquesa, the flirtatious Camila Perichole, the touchy Esteban, the snobbish Dona Clara, and the cunning Uncle Pio. The staunch Catholics, like the Abbess and Brother Juniper, tried to instill the principles of Christianity in the uninitiated, like Pepita, Esteban, and the Indian converts.

During the novel, there are several settings outside of Lima. The Marquesa undertakes a pilgrimage to the shrine of Santa Maria de Cluxambuqua, “perched on the knees of the highest peaks” of Andes, in order to offer prayers for her daughter. On the fateful day of the breaking of the San Luis Rey Bridge, the Marquesa, Pepita, Esteban, Uncle Pio, and Don Jamie had traveled over the bridge situated “on the high road between Lima and Cuzco.” This famous bridge “had been woven of osier by the Incas more than a century before, and visitors to the city were always led out to see it. It was a mere ladder of thin slats swung out over the gorge, with handrails of dried vine;” but it had become a landmark of Peru.


CHARACTER LIST

Major Characters

Marquesa De Montemayor, usually called Dona Maria
The intensely religious and superstitious mother of Dona Clara, whom she adores. She feels distressed that Dona Clara does not reciprocate her love. She is one of the victims of the accident at the bridge of San Luis Rey.

Esteban and Manuel
Orphan twins brought up by the Abbess. Their identical looks baffle many people. They are deeply attached and understand each other’s feelings. While working as copyists in the theatre, Manuel falls in love with Camila, causing feelings of guilt and tension between him and Esteban.


Uncle Pio
A shrewd and cunning man of the world and the guardian of Camila Perichole, whom he loves dearly. He has a pleasing personality, winning the favor of many people. He transforms Camila from a café singer to a stage actress and takes her son under his care.

Camila Perichole
A brilliant, vain, and flirtatious actress, who is cared for by Uncle Pio. She becomes the mistress of the Viceroy and bears his three children. After she is stricken with small pox, she isolates herself from the world. Finally, she joins a convent and helps unfortunate children.

Minor Characters

Pepita
An orphan under the care of the Abbess. She is a lonely girl who helps Maria De Pilar in the activities of the convent. Later, she goes to live with the Marquesa but feels neglected even though she has been obedient and faithful to both the Marquesa and Abbess. She loses her life along with Dona Maria in the bridge accident.

Dona Clara
The proud and clever daughter of the Marquesa. She hates her mother for her possessiveness and sentimentalism. She marries a lord in Spain and leads a life of luxury. She is a connoisseur of art and encourages talent in her court.

Abbess, also called as Madre Maria del Pilar
An idealistic servant of God. She believes in the dignity of women and tries to espouse their cause. She brings up Pepita, Esteban, and Manuel in her orphanage, along with many other children.

The Archbishop of Lima
An obese servant of God. Both a devout Catholic and a devoted officer of the church, he is highly respected by the people of Lima and is often invited by important people of the city to their homes. He performs the service at the cathedral for the five accident victims.

Don Andres
The Viceroy of Lima. A delightful widower, he makes Camila his mistress and fathers her three children. He also turns her into a refined and cultured lady.

Don Jamie
The son of Camila and Don Andres. He is a sickly child who is sent to live with Uncle Pio. He falls down, along with Uncle Pio, when the bridge breaks.

Brother Juniper
A Christian missionary from Northern Italy who comes to Lima to convert the Indians in Peru. He witnesses the breaking of the Bridge of San Luis Rey and studies the lives of the victims in order to prove the accident as a Providence of God. His theories are not accepted, and he is burnt along with his book.

Captain Alvarado
A wise, sincere, and respected man. Important people seek his company and advice. The Abbess seeks his help in reforming Esteban. Having lost his dear daughter, he travels far and wide to forget his sorrow.


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