… What if you could live forever?
Natalie Babbitt raises some very interesting questions within this relatively simple story of Tuck Everlasting. Winnie Foster is a rich little girl who feels oppressively confined within the gates of her own home. Her mother and grandmother are constantly watching her… asking where she is… wondering what she is doing… it’s positively stifling! She dreams of running away… and even tells a little toad all about her wondrous plans of escape. But Winnie is a good little girl — she wouldn’t actually run away. Where would she run away to? Who will she run away with? So she just wanders into the woods near her home. Once there, she sees a boy sitting by a tree, and watches him sip some water from a spring. Soon, his mom and older brother join him — and they must explain to Winnie why she must never, ever drink from that spring or tell anyone about it!
The spring is magical. It allows those who drink from it the ability to live forever… unchanged. The Tucks discover this the hard way, over 8 decades ago. And while some might consider living forever a blessing — or a profitable business — most of the Tucks feel that this has caused them to lose far too much. Nonetheless, unsure about whether Winnie really believes them or not, the Tucks take her to their cottage to speak with the father… surely he can make sure she understands. Technically, this is kidnapping… but Winnie goes willingly. Finally, an adventure of her own! Unfortunately, an awful and greedy little man who has been looking for the Tucks and is curious about their secret, sees them taking Winnie… and hears their story. He runs right back to Winnie’s family hoping to coerce them into selling him the woods… and thereby, the magical spring.
There are opposing views about whether the spring is a blessing or a curse. The greedy little man sees it as a way to profit — he wants to be able to see the spring water to a select few people: only those he deems deserving of everlasting life. But should such a questionable character even be allowed to make that kind of judgment calls? Mae Tuck doesn’t seem to mind it much, so long as she can see her boys every so often. Miles, her older son, does mind a bit: he lost his wife and daughters once she noticed there was something odd about his inability to age. Jesse loves it — he can see that there is so much to do when you can live forever… and yet, he wants Winnie to drink from the spring, so she can join him on his adventures later on — clearly, even he is a bit lonely. Meanwhile, Angus — the father — sees the loss this has brought along with it; the life cycle has been disrupted, and he feels the Tucks are stuck… unable to pass on, but still unable to join life fully. They cannot be like regular families — makes people suspicious after a couple of years. They cannot ever die, but they must watch those around them age and die instead.
In the end, is the moral of the story that living forever is a curse? Seems to me the idea is that, as Mae cleverly states, “Life’s got to be lived, no matter how long or short.”