"On the Bridge" and Other Stories

"On the Bridge" and Other Stories Summary and Analysis of Paragraphs 18–41


Seth asks Adam what he does with the older girls he dates. Adam gives him a sly smile and asks what Seth thinks he does with them. Seth asks if they go out, and Adam say yes, if they want to take him out; otherwise they just hang around and make out. Seth is awestruck, having never seriously made out with a girl himself. Seth once kissed a few girls during a game of spin the bottle, but that is as far as he has gone.

A large semi trailer appears on the highway. Adam pumps his fist up and down in the air and the driver responds with three loud blasts of the air horns. The semi rumbles under the bridge and disappears. Seth tries jerking his arm up and down when another truck comes toward them but the trucker ignores him.

Adam laughs, and Seth asks why it didn’t work. Adam tells him you have to “do it a special way.” Seth asks Adam to show him, but Adam insists it can’t be taught: you just have to be born with the right touch. Seth smirks, figuring it is just his luck to be born without the touch that makes truckers sound their horns.

The traffic gets thicker as afternoon rush hour approaches. Most drivers seem to be unaware of the boys on the bridge, but a few stare up at them through their windshields. Adam says he bets the drivers are wondering if the boys are going to drop something on them. Adam lifts his hand as if he is holding an imaginary rock and more drivers glance up. Adam suddenly whips his arm forward as though throwing and a woman in a blue sedan raises her hands in fear, momentarily swerving out of her lane.

Seth’s jaw drops. He can’t believe Adam frightened the woman. If she had been going faster, she might have swerved out of control and hit the stone abutment. Adam grins at Seth and says, “Scared the crap out of her.”

Seth suddenly grows worried that they are going to get in trouble and suggests that they ought to leave. Adam asks why and Seth says the woman could take the exit and come back to them. Adam shrugs and says the last person in the world he’s afraid of is some old lady.

Adam smokes his cigarette and continues watching the cars. Seth glances toward the exit ramp to see if the blue sedan got off the highway. Seth is tempted to leave but stays because he enjoys being with Adam. It makes Seth feel good that a cool guy like Adam lets Seth hang around.

The blue sedan doesn’t appear in the few minutes that pass and Seth relaxes somewhat. Seth has smoked his Marlboro to the filter. His mouth tastes awful and smoke is making his eyes water. He crushes the cigarette on the sidewalk under his sneaker, feeling relieved to be done with it.

Adam says, “Here’s the way to do it,” and flicks his cigarette butt over the side of the bridge and into traffic. It hits the windshield of a black car with a burst of red sparks. Adam grins while Seth smiles uncomfortably, beginning to wonder how far Adam will go.

The narrator comments that neither boy notices the black car pull off the exit ramp and come up behind them on the bridge. Seth only notices when he hears a door slam. Seth turns to see three large men get out of the car; they are wearing tight shirts that outline their muscles. Seth wants to leave but the men spread out to cut off any escape route. Seth and Adam are surrounded.


Strasser builds on the story’s major themes of social belonging, dishonesty, masculine insecurity, and authenticity as Seth continues to believe Adam’s lies. When asked what he does with the older girls he supposedly dates, Adam uses the same rhetorical tactic he used when trying to cut off Seth’s questions about the police by acting as though it isn’t significant that he makes out with older girls. Adam continues to uphold his fraudulent image of masculine confidence by exploiting Seth’s desire for social belonging: Adam knows that Seth has bought into Adam’s cool-guy act and is credulous enough to not see through the lies.

Adam continues to play Seth’s naivety against him during the incident with the truck driver. While Adam gets a truck driver to sound his horn in response to him signaling from the bridge, Seth fails to emulate the effect. Most people might assume that the second driver just happened not to be in the mood to sound his horn, but Seth is naïve enough to assume that the individual drivers have nothing to do with it, and he believes Adam when Adam claims the “special” air-horn technique is unteachable, something one is born with. Believing himself to be inauthentic compared to Adam, Seth once again takes Adam at his word.

Building on the motif of Adam’s escalating interactions with traffic, Strasser next depicts Adam showing off to Seth by pretending to throw a rock at the driver of a blue sedan. The woman reacts as though he has actually thrown something and momentarily loses control of her car. Seth is astonished by Adam’s risky behavior, and worries—quite rightly—that their actions will have consequences. Adam, by contrast, feigns the same nonchalance he has throughout the story. In this way, Strasser establishes the significance of the story’s setting: The bridge on which the boys stand offers them a sense of being elevated from the rest of society and immune to consequences.

Adam’s belief that he is above real-world consequences leads him to flick his lit cigarette into traffic. Having gotten away with his lies and behavior so far, Adam grins at Seth’s evident discomfort. In a moment of foreshadowing, Seth wonders how far Adam will go with his risky behavior. Seth doesn’t realize that Adam’s next dangerous and immoral act will risk Seth’s safety.

In an instance of dramatic irony, the narration briefly leaves Seth’s point of view to point out that neither boy sees the black car on which the cigarette landed take the exit ramp. Having drawn out the tension for the reader, Strasser ends Seth’s obliviousness with auditory imagery when Seth hears the car’s doors slam. By then it is too late, and the muscle-bound men in the car have surrounded Seth and Adam. In this way, the bridge that allowed them to feel elevated above others and immune to consequence comes to trap them in.