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Tuck Everlasting: Summary, Characters & Author

Instructor: Suzanne Sweat

Suzanne has taught 12 years in the NC Public School System and three years at Campbell University. She has a master's degree in English Education.

'What if you could live forever?' Natalie Babbitt explores this question in her novel, Tuck Everlasting. Read more about Babbitt, her book, and the characters that wrestle with this question.

Introduction

The thumping in my chest grew louder, and I was sure the other campers on the platform would hear the sound. I looked down again at the ten-foot drop into the lake below. I could tell the other kids were growing impatient because their shouts of encouragement grew less and less enthusiastic. Finally, after ten minutes of hesitation, I jumped off the high dive. The rush of adrenaline as I fell through the air made me feel alive. But what if I had known the jump couldn't hurt me? That no matter what I did, I would survive? Would the adrenaline, the excitement still come? Or, is it as Angus Tuck believes, that, 'You can't have living without dying'. These are the questions that Natalie Babbitt explores in her novel, Tuck Everlasting.

Tuck Everlasting book cover art
Book Cover Tuck Everlasting

Summary

The author starts the novel comparing time to a Ferris Wheel. It is August, the 'highest seat of a Ferris Wheel', but soon the calendar will turn and the temperatures will drop, like the slow descent of a Ferris Wheel. The author's initial focus on the wheel is important; she is making a point that life is made of cycles that should not be interrupted.

Mae, Angus, Jesse and Miles Tuck have inadvertently interrupted a wheel - the wheel of time. Eighty-seven years prior to the book's introductory setting, the Tucks stopped in Treegap hoping to find a place to camp. After wandering through the forest, the family stumbled upon a spring of water. Everyone took a drink, except for their cat. All was fine until several years later when Jesse fell out of a tree. What should have killed him left him unharmed. After other strange incidents that should have led to death occurred and the Tucks came through unharmed, they realized something was off. None of the family members grew older, except for the cat, which eventually died. They realized then that the spring of water had given them the ability to live forever.

The family no longer lives together, but they return to Treegap every ten years and meet at the spring. This year, however, while Jesse waits for his family members to arrive, Winifred Foster (Winnie) shows up and wants to drink some of the water.

The Foster family owns the wood in Treegap where the spring is located, and Winnie is the ten-year-old daughter of the Fosters. Winnie, whose only friend seems to be a frog, feels oppressed by the constant nagging of her mother and grandmother, and wanders into the wood to escape her family. When she sees Jesse drinking the spring water, she wants to try some too, not knowing that the water provides immortality to those who consume it. Just as Winnie and Jesse are arguing over why Winnie can't drink the water, Mae and Miles arrive. They fear that Winnie will either drink the water or tell someone about it, so they kidnap Winnie and take her away on horseback.

Unbeknownst to them, an older man dressed in a yellow suit (his name is never given), who showed up at the Fosters' home earlier asking about the Tucks, has followed the Tucks and Winnie. After a long horse ride, the Tucks pull over for a break and tell Winnie of their experiences with the spring and the man in the yellow suit eavesdrops on their conversation.

The man in the yellow suit heads back to Treegap to blackmail the Fosters into deeding him their land in exchange for Winnie, while the Tucks head to Mae and Angus' house. While there, Angus explains that everything, from water to frogs, to humans, are part of a wheel, but because the Tucks are immortal, they're no longer part of the wheel and are being left behind. He believes that without the possibility of death, 'you can't call it living' (64).

Back in Treegap, the man in the yellow suit tells the constable of Winnie's whereabouts. When the man in the yellow suit arrives at the Tucks' house, he asks the Tucks to join him in his plan to advertise and sell the water. When they refuse, he says he will use Winnie to show the water's life-saving powers. Mae is furious at this, and hits the man on the head with her gun. The constable arrives just in time to see the whole thing.

The constable arrests Mae and returns Winnie to the Fosters. Eventually, the man in the yellow suit dies from his injuries, and Mae is sentenced to hang for murder. The Tucks know that if Mae is hanged in front of the townspeople, she will survive and the people will discover their secret. They feel strongly that if people find out about the spring, it will have devastating consequences, knowing themselves how painful it is not to be able to move on in life. They devise a plan that involves Winnie sneaking into the jail and trading places with Mae.

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