Tuck Everlasting: Symbolism & Themes

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  • 0:03 Themes
  • 2:32 Symbols
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Robin Small

Robin has a BA/MAT in English Ed, and teaches 6th grade English and Writing Lab.

In Tuck Everlasting, eleven-year-old Winnie Foster meets an unusual family in the woods and confronts the opportunity to live forever. In this lesson, we will explore some of the symbols and themes that make this a deep and thought-provoking story.


Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt is a worthwhile read, for the story alone. However, if you take the time to recognize some of its themes and symbols, you'll see layers of meaning beneath the surface of this enthralling fantasy. First, we'll look at the themes found in the story.

Growing Up

Winnie Foster is tired of the stifling control of her mother and grandmother in their perfect, orderly, 'touch-me-not' house. She knows she wants something different for herself, and she longs for freedom to become who she wants to be. Winnie ventures outside of the realm of the fenced yard and civilization to explore the woods. When she returns home after her adventures, she has made difficult, adult decisions, known love, loyalty, and loss, and is no longer a child.

Civilization vs. Nature

Winnie is fenced inside of the civilized world, on the edge of the woods. The Foster family owns the forest, but they don't come close to understanding it. Civilization takes the form of the man who would like to bottle and sell the immortality-water from the spring in the woods. At the beginning of the novel, nature protects the spring from people because the cows choose to walk around the forest rather than through it. At the end of the novel, nature protects the spring from people through the destruction caused by the forest fire.

Time and Death

If you could live forever, would you? There's no easy answer to a question like this. While Winnie chooses her own path, yours might be different. Except in stories, no one can escape the flow of time toward death. Through fantasy, Tuck Everlasting allows us to contemplate whether or not we would live forever if we could. Tuck tells Winnie that life is 'Moving, growing, changing. . .' and that 'dying is part of the wheel, right there next to being born.'

Love, Loyalty, and Family

Winnie wants to get away from her mother and grandmother, but when she is with the Tucks, she begins to miss them. When she understands how much the Tucks care for her, she begins to worry for them, and want to protect them. She refuses to say she was kidnapped and instead insists she is with them by choice. After the sacrifice she makes to set Mae Tuck free, Winnie feels sorry for the trouble it causes her family. They eventually accept Winnie's explanation: 'the Tucks were her friends. She had done it because - in spite of everything, she loved them. This, her family understood, and. . . drew together staunchly around her.' Her family is loyal to her because they love her.


Now we will look at the symbols found in Tuck Everlasting.

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