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The protagonists are the Marquesa, Esteban, and Uncle Pio, all of whom try to find love and meaning during their life times. They are united when they are all killed on the Bridge at San Luis Rey.
The antagonists are fate (in the breaking of the bridge) and the unresponsive relatives (Dona Clara, Manuel, and Camila) who thwart the efforts of the Marquesa, Esteban, and Uncle Pio to give love.
The climax occurs when the Bridge at San Luis Rey breaks, killing the protagonists before they accomplish their goals.
The book ends as a tragedy for the protagonists. They die before they reach their goals, but their deaths inspire those they leave behind to a more meaningful life.