Bea Crawford’s review of Tuck Everlasting tackles our existential anxiety.
hat is the meaning of life? Humans have spent thousands of years attempting to ascertain any shred of significance to the lives we lead, some sense of purpose. Often it takes inspiration from others for us to find our own purpose, and this is where books come in handy. I have often found myself dwelling on the concept of death, and whether its ever-looming inevitability renders life meaningless or if the acceptance of this inevitability aids us in our pursuit of purpose. Enter: Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, a 1975 American children’s novel that attempts to provide an answer to the eternal question, “if you had the chance to live forever, would you take it?”.
While it may seem odd to say you’ve discovered the meaning of life in a children’s novel, Babbitt nevertheless manages to weave an evocative tale that stays with you (or, at least, me) even a decade after reading. Following 10-year-old Winnie Foster as she befriends the forest-dwelling Tuck family, the novel centres around the family’s big secret: almost a century ago, they each drank from a spring in the woods and haven’t aged a day since. The Tucks sustain that immortality is not the blessing it seems to be, and at the end of the novel, Winnie is confronted with the choice to drink the water and join them or to pass on immortality and go on with her life.
Perhaps the most impactful scene takes place towards the end of the novel. Tuck, the patriarch of the titular family, takes Winnie Foster out on the river in a rowboat. Winnie — pondering the choice between immortality and the mundane, sheltered life she currently leads — seems dead set on selecting the former, as any naïve child would. Tuck, a father figure in the novel for the protagonist, attempts to open her eyes to the downsides of eternal life by supplying her with his own life philosophy. Describing life as a wheel, of which death, like birth, is an essential part, he says: “you can't pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest. Being part of the whole thing, that's the blessing.” It’s the kind of line that has stuck with me since my first reading, through various existential crises: death is going to happen, regardless of your acceptance of it. It’s how we deal with this knowledge that affects our pursuit of purpose in life.
Because Tuck was right: you can’t have lived without dying. The meaning of life is not to live forever; it is to make the most of the short time we have. Always having death in the background of our minds can definitely make life frustrating, to the point where it may sometimes feel pointless to go on, but that knowledge also gives us a purpose. At the end of the day, you don’t have to live forever — you just have to live.