Last week, I finished reading the timeless children’s tale, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. I first read the book in elementary school and found it totally captivating. I thought of the book a while back, and my brother was kind enough to give it to me for Christmas this year so that I could remember why I had loved it so much in the first place.
When I reread Tuck Everlasting, I did remember a great deal of the plot, especially because the book is so short (only 139 pages). The story follows 10-year-old Winnie Foster, a sheltered girl growing up in a small town in the 1880s. In an attempt at adventure, she stumbles upon the Tuck family, who, because they drank from an enchanted spring, can never die.
Once Winnie becomes friendly with the Tucks, she has to learn to make decisions for herself. Will she drink the enchanted water when she turns seventeen so that she can marry the eternally young Jesse Tuck? Will she risk her family’s reputation to help the Tucks in their time of trouble? Will she trust the people who, in fact, kidnapped her?
I initially found Tuck Everlasting to be an enchanting story of whimsy and suspense when I read it as a nine/ten-year-old girl. However, as I read it again about ten years later, I saw much more in Babbitt’s tale of immortality.
A few spoilers are to follow, so fair warning!
Tuck Everlasting, in the purest sense, is a classic tale of the loss of innocence. The story opens with Winnie finally getting fed up with her boring life of restriction by her family. She has no friends and rarely leaves her house; now, as she is getting older, she finds the wood that her family owns intriguing. Winnie yearns to run away but is fearful of the repercussions. This brought back memories of me as a young girl packing a bag as if I were going to run away and then realizing that there really wasn’t anything I wanted to run away from; the simple prospect of “running away” just gave me a thrill of excitement because of its representation in the books I had read and movies I had watched.
But when she gets kidnapped by the Tucks, Winnie must face a succession of decisions that she has never had to make before. She learns to trust her instincts and not fear her kidnappers or take the kidnapping at face value; rather, she listens to their story and understands the reasoning behind their actions. Later, when the Tucks are discovered by the man in the yellow suit, Winnie must decide if she will remain a hostage of her family forever or sneak out in the middle of the night to help her friends.
Most importantly, Jesse Tuck offers Winnie a proposal; he asks her to drink the age-freezing spring water when she turns seventeen so that they can get married and live together forever. This is quite a hefty offer for a ten-year-old, but she seems to take it to heart and understands that she must make the decision when the time comes.
The strongest image of Winnie’s loss of innocence is the presence of the man in the yellow suit. Right away, my English-class-instincts said, “Yellow! That’s a symbol of decay and destruction!”, something I definitely wouldn’t have recognized when I first read the book. He first wanders into the scene to represent Winnie’s doubts about her choice to leave her home, as he talks to her by the gate to her house. However, when he discovers the Tucks and overhears their story, he comes forward as the stern face of adulthood that threatens to use the Tucks and their spring water for money. It is not until Mae Tuck shoots and kills him that Winnie completely loses her innocence. Now, Winnie looks death in the face and realizes its inevitability for all people–except the Tucks.
She also realizes that these events–her meeting the Tucks, the death of the man in the yellow suit– are a part of her story. No one in her family has experienced what she has, and this gives her a mature understanding of her own individuality and consciousness.
Tuck Everlasting revolves around the growth and maturity of Winnie Foster as she fluctuates between desiring immortality and realizing its faults. She seems to make her peace with the idea of death, as is revealed in the epilogue. When the Tucks come upon her gravestone, they learn that she married a mortal man, had children, and lived a long and healthy life. However, they knew when she did not return seven years after they had met that she was not going to follow their path of living forever.
This book was particularly poignant for me, as death has been present in my life recently, as well as in the media with the recent deaths of inspiring figures like David Bowie and Alan Rickman. But Tuck Everlasting did not leave a sour taste in my mouth; rather it is more of a peaceful rendering of the truth that everyone dies. Death is neither something to fear nor something to shame. It is an event to be welcomed when the time comes because it is what makes us human, which, in itself, is truly a miracle.
I’m looking forward to the musical production of Tuck Everlasting, which is coming to Broadway on April 26th!
Did you read Tuck Everlasting? What did you think of it? Have your thoughts on immortality changed over time? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading!!