During a recent medical mission trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I encountered the term “bridge-dweller.” Before this trip, I lived in the United States, completely belonging to this society and not actively addressing other worlds around me. But that all changed. After two weeks abroad, I recognized these other peoples and worlds, and I somehow could not return to life completely narrowed to the United States. Yet I clearly did not belong to the world of the Costa Ricans or Nicaraguans either. I am, and will forevermore be, a “bridge-dweller.”
Both Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death feature protagonists who themselves are “bridge-dwellers.” Both novels contain main characters who are rejected from their own societies; Richard, from Neverwhere, and Onyesonwu, from Who Fears Death, both exist in between two diametrically opposed cultures, and yet belong to neither of them. This allows for these characters to interact with other societies and cultures, never completely dwelling on one side or the other, but bridging the gap between the two. As a result, both characters are poised to challenge discrimination and injustice; in the case of Onyesonwu, she faces both racial and sexual prejudice, while Richard’s experiences highlight discrimination based on wealth and social status.
A critical difference in the analysis of these two narratives, however, comes through the endings. Who Fears Death provides a satisfying conclusion for the reader, the admirable traits of the main character shine through, and some degree of social order has been attained. In stark contrast, Neverwhere concludes with Richard, one of very few who is capable of enacting great community change, failing to address these appalling social discriminations. Due to Richard’s inaction, the reader is then obligated to examine real world consequences, and is compelled to act herself as the “bridge-dweller.”