It is human to fear death, but it is also human to die. The novel Tuck Everlasting, written in 1975 by Natalie Babbitt, explores this concept of immortality as well as what it is to be human. While originally designed as a children’s fantasy tale, the book speaks profoundly to all age ranges, and has consequently gained a lasting place in the pantheon of memorable literature.
In the story, ten year-old Winnifred “Winnie” Foster becomes tired of her oppressive, high-class upbringing in the town of Treegap. She runs into a forest near her home, where she gets lost and is then found by the Tuck family – most notably, Jesse Tuck. She eventually discovers that the Tucks are immortal, having been changed by drinking water from a special spring. As time passes in their company, she comes to realize that while they will never die, they have been isolated from society and company, and their life easily becomes stagnant.
Deeply taken with seventeen year-old Jesse and his fun-loving personality, Winnie is tempted to stay in the woods with the Tucks and never return to her previous life. Things change abruptly, however, when a man in a yellow suit, having followed Winnie, discovers the Tuck’s secret, and wants to market the spring water to the public. The Tucks, who recognize the curse of immortality for what it is, strongly object and Mae Tuck, Jesse’s mother, accidentally kills the man in the yellow suit.
Mae Tuck is arrested, and sentenced to death by hanging. Not wanting to put to the test whether or not the Tucks truly are immortal, Winnie offers to switch places with Mae in the cell to give the Tucks time to escape to safety. She is left with a bottle of spring water, a plea from Jesse to drink it upon turning seventeen, and the choice between a life with a chance to “make some kind of difference in the world” or an eternal albeit shallow existence.
At the end of the novel, Mae and her husband, Angus, return to the town seventy years later, to see what became of Winnie. They discover her tombstone in the church cemetery, and it becomes clear to the reader as to what Winnie’s decision was.
While it is only in the 2002 film adaption that Winnie and Jesse enter into an actual relationship (one that could be described as dating), their connection remains indisputably present in the book. Jesse represents the eternal joy and passion of youth, whereas Winnie symbolizes the entire journey of life, with all the meaning that comes along the process. Winnie is drawn to Jesse’s vivaciousness, and he to her contemplative and strong nature. It is stressed throughout the book, especially by Angus Tuck, that immortality is a sort of stopping point in time, rather than a continuation thereof. Death is portrayed as a natural part of life, and if there is no death, it’s not really a true “life”.
It is left up to the reader to evaluate and question what they might have chosen, had they been in Winnie’s position. The end result of the novel is a deeper understanding of oneself, and of what it means to be human.
For more information on the book or the themes within, please feel free to peruse the following websites:
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