Notes on Tuck Everlasting et al

This is my first (David Breitkopf’s)  blog entry on an  independent study class I’ve been taking on  YA novels. This is an area of literature where I can say unabashedly that I am poorly read in. This summer I made a slight dent into the vast library of YA novels. I enjoyed most of the books not only for the stories but for the quality of the writing. The novels varied widely or as I was about to write, wildly,  everything from Roald Dahl’s Matllda to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea.  

I hope to write a series of entries about the books, a total of 8 (I’ve read 7 to date)  that I will read. I realize that these  entries may lack the immediacy that comes with writing a blog entry as one is still in the midst of the novel, a hot-off-the-presses feeling of one’s reading. That has  to do with my Luddite allergies acting up as regards to blogging on this site. But my olfactory seems to be willing to accept some new machinery these days. Lastly, my ultimate aim in these blog entries is to discuss how I might teach these novels to a class of high schoolers. I will endeavor to put forth those notions as well as my general impressions of the books. The first novel I want to discuss at length is the last  I finished: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. A lovely fairy tale, lyrically written, and centering around a grand moral dilemma. I liked how the novel casually begins, giving us a presentiment of something occurring between the three characters and the locus–Treegap Wood, the hub for these three spokes. The story of the spring or the fountain of eternity comes to light only when Winnie Forster happens to meet Jesse Tuck. That moment is the catalyst for everything that follows, and it all happens in rapid succession–Winnie is kidnapped and taken back to the Tuck’s rather unkempt house. The story seeps out about the spring that Jesse prevented her from drinking from.

Within the novel, characters who are aware of the fountain have varying attitudes towards it. The mysterious man in the yellow suit, tries to make money off it, but pays for his hucksterism with his life. 

But the Tuck family all have varying degrees of understanding and attitudes about the spring. The father, who by the end is likely close to 200 years old, is the most opposed to having anyone else discover and drink from the spring. He explains to Winnie  eloquently about the importance of death, getting her to understand that death is absolutely necessary for life to continue otherwise there would be no room to move in the world. The Tucks in their eternity feel outside of the world. They can’t die but they must keep their immortality a secret. Miles who wants to make something of himself, loses his family because his wife gets older but he doesn’t. 

Jesse prevents Winnie from drinking the water, but later after they became friends and a bit flirtatious, he gives her a vial of the water for her to drink when she turns 17 so they can marry and always be the same age. On impulse to save a toad, Winnie ends up pouring the water over the toad, which we learn in the final chapter has survived Winnie, who lived long, was a wife and a mother, but died before the Tucks returned to the area after many years to find it substantially changed. 

An obvious question, I might ask students is what would you do if you had the choice of eternal life? Would you drink? Or would you, like Angus Tuck long for moving on even if it includes death? To drink or not to drink. The complexity of the dilemma in part depends on one’s age. Jesse is more amenable to the idea. He is young and ever youthful. Tuck the father, and Mae are tired and long for change. The man in the yellow suit, is avaricious and perhaps wants to simply sell the liquid to become rich. 

Ultimately Winnie chooses to not drink the water, though anointing her toad with everlasting life. 

This novel would work well as an anchor novel for a unit on life and death, or the life cycle, how we as humans change physically, mentally, emotionally as we age. 

 

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2 thoughts on “Notes on Tuck Everlasting et al

  1. As I read the novel, I was constantly thinking of ways in which to include the story into my English curriculum. It definitely has elements of fiction that is engaging to young readers, the mystery in which the plot unfolds, the quirky, but likable characters, the suspense when the man in the yellow suit appears, and the protagonist’s own coming of age. I think that the question “to drink or to to drink,” although centered in the story, can be a nice writing assignment that can perhaps be the culminating assignment in a Unit. But I would focus my instruction around the excellent depiction of these characters, who get to give their own perspective in the story. Although we see Winnie as the protagonist, students are able to decipher the character of each of the Tucks, especially Mae and Angus who voice their concerns and their experiences. They have so much more to offer in terms of story, their memories, their experiences, have made them the colorful characters that they are. So I would develop a Unit centered on characterization and have students compare characters according to various traits, including their stance in the “to drink or not to drink” argument. The novel is beautifully written, and offers much in terms of vocabulary development and plot structure. Students are also able to directly see different types of conflict as they apply to each character and situation.
    AH

    • AH,
      Are you suggesting having students write a story of their own about one of the Tucks getting into trouble for being much older than other people? In other words, write a story about one of the Tucks accidently coming upon someone, or someone accidently coming upon one of the Tucks doing something that might have only taken place 100 years earlier and the Tuck individual would then be forced to shrug it off.

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