The Tucks are simple-appearing people, but they conceal a great secret. The toad on the road that just won't get out of the way might have lived for seventy years or more. The woods near town might conceal a spring that can make you immortal.
The events of Tuck Everlasting do not happen on a grand scale - instead, this is a tale about a young girl who discovers a major mystery and fights to keep it secret. The novel is set in the countryside of the late 1800s, and all the characters are ordinary people. However, the fact that these incredible supernatural events happen to be hidden in such an ordinary little community suggest that magical things might be hidden in everyday people and places.
Natalie Babbitt began writing Tuck Everlasting when she considered why living forever might not be such a good thing. The novel suggests four distinct reasons why immortality is not a good thing. it removes one from the cycle of life, it is lonely, it would make the world too crowded, and it would allow evil or unpleasant creatures to remain in the world forever. Tuck say that it is unnatural, that it removes a person from the cycles of growth and decay that characterize the lives of every living creature.
The Tucks explained to Winnie how their former community had driven them out because they did not age, and they did not dare to make new friends who would eventually learn their secret. While on the pond, Miles points out that the world would get very crowded if no one ever died. Winnie wonders about a world in which creatures like mosquitoes could never be killed, and the arrival of the wicked man in the yellow suit, who wants to exploit the spring for profit, raises questions about the difficulties resulting from an evil person drinking from the spring of immortality.
One of the primary messages in Tuck Everlasting is that every living thing must die someday, and that death is actually not such a bad thing, because you have to die if you are going to live. Learning this lesson helps Winnie take the first steps on the road to adulthood, allowing her to speak truthfully and to exercise compassion to other living creatures.
The Tuck family is not actually thrilled by their immortality. For example, Miles loses his wife and children when they grow suspicious of his immunity to aging, and Jesse longs for a wife to enjoy the world with. However, Angus Tuck remains the most vivid example of the discontent with immortality, especially when he gazes almost longingly at the near-dead form of the man in the yellow suit, implying that he actually actively wishes for death (p. 101).
The Natural World
By introducing a spring that can grant immortality, Tuck Everlasting suggests that we don't know how many amazing things the natural world contains. Peter Kunze argues in his article "Winnie-the-Conservationist: Tuck Everlasting, Ecofeminism, and Children’s Literature" that one of the primary motivators for both Winnie and the Tucks is the need to protect a vital natural resource - the spring - from exploitation by human beings. Unlike other stories about children venturing into nature, Winnie does not want to conquer or overcome or even play in nature. Instead, she wants to protect it. Kunza argues that this places the novel firmly within a tradition of ecology-minded fiction.
Moreover, the novel also centers on the importance of natural cycles, with Tuck emphasizing that his family's immortality removes them from the natural cycle of things, and is therefore not a good thing. Additionally, the book is filled with beautiful descriptions of landscapes and scenery, which support the connection between natural cycles and the processes of birth and death (see Imagery section for more details).
Coming of Age
Winnie's coming of age occurs when she chooses to leave her home to get out from under the control of her bossy mother and grandmother; she is making her own choices free from the direction of her family. Winnie befriends the Tucks despite being afraid of them at first. She calms the Tucks, despite the fact that they are so much older than her. She makes an independent decision to aid Mae's release. She also learns that every living thing will die someday, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Scholar Peter Kunze comments that "Whereas the traditional Bildungsroman features a young male protagonist realizing his ability to strike out on his own as an independent member of society, Tuck Everlasting underscores a young girl’s obligations to her community, human and nonhuman alike" (Kunze, p. 36). This is to say, Winnie's coming of age is not necessarily about her triumphing over society or nature, but rather about her gaining the strength and compassion to support the people and causes she cares about.
Love, especially familial love, is a major theme throughout the novel. Winnie leaves her overbearing family of origin to meet the Tucks, but her relationship with the Tucks does not replace her relationship with her mother, father, and grandmother. She is happy to return to her family of origin, but her love for the Tucks also pushes her to take an extreme risk for them: helping Mae escape from prison and then taking her place. The Tucks, for their part, love Winnie deeply and seek to educate and protect her. Mae even kills the man in the yellow suit when he threatens to force Winnie to drink the water.
The love within the Tuck family also allow them to cope with the difficulty of their immortality. Mae and Tuck are extremely close, and the family reunions they have with their sons every year allow them to maintain these important family bonds.
When he takes Winnie out on the pond, Tuck emphasizes the importance of cycles. Just as the river carries the water out to the sea, so that it can evaporate and eventually fall down as rain, all creatures that are born eventually die - except the Tuck family. However, their immunity to death is a mistake rather than a state that should be sought out, and so they try to prevent others from discovering the spring.
When Winnie chooses not to drink the water from the spring, and instead to pour it on the toad, she is choosing to remain in the cycle while also offering protection to a vulnerable creature.
Tuck Everlasting Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Tuck Everlasting is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.