"I beat the crap out of this guy at the mall yesterday."
"On the Bridge" opens with a line of dialogue in which Adam brags about an act of violence that he committed at the mall. The passage is significant because it introduces two fundamental components of Adam's persona: violence and boastfulness. Once Adam's propensity for lying is revealed, the reader realizes that the story's opening line also introduces a third aspect of Adam's persona: compulsive dishonesty.
"They just don't like me. You know how it is."
By talking about the police not liking him, Adam creates the impression that he has had encounters with law enforcement in the past because of his criminal nature. He effectively discourages his friend Seth from asking more questions about his run-ins with the law by adding, "You know how it is." Adam knows that Seth doesn't know 'how it is,' but Adam also knows that Seth's unwillingness to lose face will prompt Seth to act as if he is familiar with the idea of being known to police. This passage is significant because it shows how Adam uses rhetorical tactics to get away with lying about himself.
It was a warm, spring afternoon, and instead of taking the bus home after school they'd decided to walk to the diner. There Adam had instructed Seth on how to feed quarters into the cigarette machine and get a pack of Marlboros.
While it may initially appear as though Adam is teaching Seth, treating him like an apprentice in coolness and rebellion, Adam instructing Seth how to get a pack of cigarettes from the machine at the diner is actually an expression of Adam's cowardice. Instead of getting the cigarettes himself, Adam uses Seth to buy the pack so that Seth will face punishment if they are caught.
"Can't, man," Adam said. "You just have to have the right touch. It's something you're born with."
In his efforts to emulate Adam, Seth studies the way Adam smokes and the way he dresses. However, Seth fails to match Adam's casual confidence when he tries to do the same. This dynamic also plays out when Seth fails to signal a truck driver to blow his horn the same way Adam did. In this passage, Adam makes it clear that Seth will never reach the same level of coolness because it is an inherent trait that cannot be learned. The passage is significant because it shows how Adam needs to keep Seth subordinate in order for Adam to maintain his elevated sense of self.
Seth felt his jaw drop. He couldn't believe Adam had done that. If the car had been going faster it might have gone out of control and crashed into the stone abutment next to the highway. ... Seth kept glancing toward the exit ramp to see if the woman [in] the blue car had gotten off. He was really tempted to leave but he stayed because he liked being with Adam. It made him feel good that a cool guy like Adam let him hang around.
After Adam frightens a driver by threatening to throw a rock at her windshield, Seth stands in awe of Adam, worrying about the potential harm Adam might have caused. However, Seth ignores the voice inside him because he doesn't want to appear cowardly to Adam. The passage is significant because it shows how Seth's desire to hang out with Adam makes him sacrifice his own moral compass and rational fear of consequences.
Seth shook his head. He didn't believe Adam. He started to walk toward home.
After Adam claims he couldn't help Seth because one of the guys had a knife—adding the detail that it was a small knife that Seth wouldn't have seen—Seth realizes that Adam compulsively lies. This passage marks a significant shift in perspective for Seth. While he began the story credulously believing Adam's fabrications, Seth can no longer trust Adam to tell the truth. He realizes then that he needs to distance himself from Adam.
The spots of blood had turned dark. If he took it home and washed it now, the stains would probably make it look pretty cool. Like a jacket that had been worn in tons of fights. Seth smirked. He took it off and threw it in the garbage can.
In the last paragraph of "On the Bridge," Seth considers how his denim jacket—now spotted with his blood—has achieved the look of authenticity he had earlier craved. However, Seth throws the jacket away. This passage is significant because it shows how Seth's perspective has changed over the course of the story. No longer naively wanting to be like Adam, Seth rejects the need to look superficially tough.
“On the Bridge” and Other Stories Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for “On the Bridge” and Other Stories is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
"On the Bridge" and Other Stories essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of "On the Bridge" and Other Stories by Todd Strasser.