Places: The Bridge of San Luis Rey

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1927

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Philosophical realism

Time of work: Early eighteenth century

Places DiscussedBridge of San Luis Rey

Bridge Bridge of San Luis Rey, Theof San Luis Rey. Colonial Peru’s most famous bridge, an old rope suspension bridge in the region between Lima and Cuzco that collapsed on July 20, 1714, sending five travelers to their deaths in the deep gorge below. Their deaths would have been forgotten, were it not for the fact that a Roman Catholic priest, Brother Juniper, who narrowly missed being among the dead, questioned why the others died and he was spared. His questions sought to demonstrate the importance of place in the shaping of human lives. After devoting his life to investigating the lives of the five victims, he published a book showing that God had reasons to send each of the victims to their deaths at that moment. The book was condemned by Church authorities, and he was burned at the stake for going too far in explaining God’s ways to humanity. The one surviving copy of Brother Juniper’s book fell into the hands of Thornton Wilder’s fictional narrator, who tells the stories of the five bridge victims’ lives and examines the effect their deaths had on the people whom they left behind.

The bridge has become a memorial to despair. For example, Madre Maria, who seemed to be the one physical connection among the five victims, felt great despair because her children were lost in the fall. She felt that she had to overpay for her placing her wards on that bridge at that moment. Only she remembered the orphans whom she had so carefully reared. She retreated to her memories at the place of the convent.


Cathedral. Roman Catholic cathedral in Lima, where a great service was held after the tragedy for its victims. Everyone in attendance considered the incident an example of a true act of God, and many reasons were offered for the various deaths.

BibliographyAnderson, M. Y. “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”: A Critical Commentary. New York: American R. D. M., 1966. Provides concise background details on Wilder and effective commentary about the book’s plot structure, characterizations, and major themes.Burbank, Rex J. Thornton Wilder. New York: Twayne, 1961. An insightful introduction to Wilder and his writings. Explores the humanism of The Bridge of San Luis Rey and concludes that this novel, despite weaknesses, “has all the intellectual scope, depth of feeling, and complexity of character that make a mature and aesthetically satisfying vision.”Castronovo, David. Thornton Wilder. New York: Ungar, 1986. An excellent brief introduction to Wilder and his works. Sees The Bridge of San Luis Rey as a study “of isolation and chaos” which attempts to show how “to rise above the disasters of the modern world into a sustaining, if not always clear, spirituality.”Goldstone, Richard H., and Gary Anderson. Thornton Wilder: Annotated Bibliography of Works By and About Thornton Wilder. New York: AMS Press, 1982. An excellent source for finding works by and about Wilder. Includes many bibliography entries for sources and reviews dealing with The Bridge of San Luis Rey.Harrison, Gilbert A. The Enthusiast: A Life of Thornton Wilder. New Haven, Conn.: Ticknor and Fields, 1983. Includes important information surrounding the writing of the novel, as well as emphasizing its purpose, reception, and contribution.
Categories: Places