Tuck Everlasting introduces Winnie at the very beginning of puberty. She's still a child, but she also shows glimmers of maturity and the desire to explore the world, both of which the novel suggests are necessary precursors to coming of age. By illustrating how Winnie begins to come of age, Tuck Everlasting suggests that the process of reaching maturity is one that begins when a young person begins to understand complex realities and experiment with making independent choices in the face of that complexity.
When the reader first meets Winnie, she appears very much like a child. She hits the iron fence surrounding her family's cottage with a stick in a childish and thoughtless way, and she believes that she's going to grow up to be just like her mother and her Granny--that is, she'll grow up to inhabit a stuffy world of "proper" femininity, as modeled for her by these adult women. Winnie appears childlike here because she never questions what her future is going to look like; she blindly trusts the adults around her to guide her towards adulthood. Further, aside from suggesting that she’s not excited about the version of adulthood they represent, Winnie doesn't show any recognition that she has the power to make choices about her future. Despite these qualities that firmly establish Winnie as a child, the novel also suggests that she's at a point in her maturation where she's ready to begin questioning reality. Though she thinks about running away from home and ultimately decides not to, contemplating doing so suggests that she craves independence and the ability to make her own decisions. Further, Winnie’s obvious attraction to 17-year-old Jesse, whom she meets when she wanders into her family's wood, suggests that her sexual maturity isn't far off either.
Winnie's decision to leave her fenced yard for the wild of the wood becomes a symbolic representation of her choice to begin her coming-of-age journey. While Winnie's home and yard signify the safe, controlled, and reliable world of childhood, everything outside of them introduces Winnie to the fact that her home and her way of life are only one way of living, an understanding that the novel suggests is essential to becoming a mature individual. However, though the novel suggests that beginning this journey is a simple choice that's as easy as opening a garden gate, what Winnie discovers outside of the gate paints the adult world as one that's simultaneously delightful and terrifying--in every case, it upends Winnie's expectations of what the world should be like. Winnie initially finds the wood extremely pleasant and wonders why she never chose to play in it before this first time. However, the wood soon turns into the setting of her worst nightmare when Mae, Jesse, and Miles kidnap her after she sees Jesse drink from the stream. Further, despite this fear, Winnie calmly observes that her nightmare isn't at all like she'd imagined it would be, which indicates that Winnie is beginning to appreciate that the adult world is more complicated than she'd imagined in her childish nightmares. Similarly, though Winnie's reasoning for not wanting to run away hinges on not wanting to be alone, she soon discovers that with the Tucks, she isn't alone--though she does vacillate between thinking that the Tucks are horrible criminals and dear friends. This impresses upon Winnie the adult world is confusing and scary, but it's also possible to find bright spots in that world even in unexpected places.
Once the constable returns Winnie to her parents after 24 hours away, Winnie has time to reflect on the journey she took and decide how she's going to move forward. Several things remind the reader that Winnie is still very much a child at this point. She again stays inside the fence, per her parents' request, and she seeks comfort from her mother and by sitting in a child-size rocking chair that's much too small for her. All of this suggests that while Winnie may be beginning her coming-of-age journey, she still has a long way to go. As she continues to grow, she will move backwards and forwards between childhood and adulthood, stepping out as she feels ready and retreating back into childish comforts when the world feels too big to handle. Importantly, however, Winnie notices that her parents treat her differently after her adventure, as though something important has happened to her, and she realizes that she now has the power to dictate the course of her own life. Her parents' treatment suggests that, after her journey outside the fence, Winnie is not just a little girl anymore. Having learned more about the world, she understands that she can step out of her comfort zone at any moment and in particular, she understands that stepping out has consequences: her actions changed the Tucks' lives dramatically, caused Winnie's parents to question Winnie's trustworthiness, and introduced Winnie to an entirely different way of living. Through these descriptions of Winnie’s dawning maturity, the novel characterizes coming of age as a process in which children discover their own agency and how it can affect the complexities of the world around them.
Childhood, Independence, and Maturity ThemeTracker
Childhood, Independence, and Maturity Quotes in Tuck Everlasting
"I want to be by myself for a change." She leaned her forehead against the bars and after a short silence went on in a thoughtful tone. "I'm not exactly sure what I'd do, you know, but something interesting--something that's all mine. Something that would make some kind of difference in the world."
But she realized that sometime during the night she had made up her mind: she would not run away today. "Where would I go, anyway?" she asked herself. "There's nowhere else I really want to be." But in another part of her head, the dark part where her oldest fears were housed, she knew there was another sort of reason for staying at home: she was afraid to go away alone.
Winnie had often been haunted by visions of what it would be like to be kidnapped. But none of her visions had been like this, with her kidnappers just as alarmed as she was herself. She had always pictured a troupe of burly men with long black moustaches who would tumble her into a blanket and bear her off like a sack of potatoes while she pleaded for mercy. But, instead, it was they, Mae Tuck and Miles and Jesse, who were pleading.
"Just think of all the things we've seen in the world! All the things we're going to see!"
"That kind of talk'll make her want to rush back and drink a gallon of the stuff," warned Miles. "There's a whole lot more to it than Jesse Tuck's good times, you know."
"Oh, stuff," said Jesse with a shrug. "We might as well enjoy it, long as we can't change it. You don't have to be such a parson all the time."
"I'm not being a parson," said Miles. "I just think you ought to take it more serious."
But she felt there was nothing to be afraid of, not really. For they seemed gentle. Gentle and--in a strange way--childlike. They made her feel old. And the way they spoke to her, the way they looked at her, made her feel special. Important. It was a warm, spreading feeling, entirely new. She liked it, and in spite of their story, she liked them, too--especially Jesse.
Closing the gate on her oldest fears as she had closed the gate of her own fenced yard, she discovered the wings she'd always wished she had. And all at once she was elated. Where were the terrors she'd been told she should expect? She could not recognize them anywhere. The sweet earth opened out its wide four corners to her like the petals of a flower ready to be picked, and it shimmered with light and possibility till she was dizzy with it. Her mother's voice, the feel of home, receded for the moment, and her thoughts turned forward. Why, she, too, might live forever in this remarkable world she was only just discovering!
"Jesse, now, he don't ever seem too settled in himself. Course, he's young." She stopped and smiled. "That sounds funny, don't it? Still, it's true, just the same."
"Life. Moving, growing, changing, never the same two minutes together. This water, you look out at it every morning, and it looks the same, but it ain't. All night long it's been moving, coming in through the stream back there to the west, slipping out through the stream down east here, always quiet, always new, moving on."
Winnie blinked, and all at once her mind was drowned with understanding of what he was saying. For she--yes, even she--would go out of the world willy-nilly someday. Just go out, like the flame of a candle, and no use protesting. It was a certainty. She would try very hard not to think of it, but sometimes, as now, it would be forced upon her. She raged against it, helpless and insulted, and blurted at last, "I don't want to die."
"If I knowed how to climb back on the wheel, I'd do it in a minute. You can't have living without dying. So you can't call it living, what we got. We just are, we just be, like rocks beside the road."
And then Winnie said something she had never said before, but the words were words she had sometimes heard, and often longed to hear. They sounded strange on her own lips and made her sit up straighter. "Mr. Tuck," she said, "don't worry. Everything's going to be all right."
Winnie pulled her little rocking chair up to her bedroom window and sat down. The rocking chair had been given to her when she was very small, but she still squeezed into it sometimes, when no one was looking, because the rocking made her almost remember something pleasant, something soothing, that would never quite come up to the surface of her mind. And tonight she wanted to be soothed.
"You mean, if he dies," Winnie had said, flatly, and they had sat back, shocked. Soon after, they put her to bed, with many kisses. But they peered at her anxiously over their shoulders as they tiptoed out of her bedroom, as if they sensed that she was different now from what she had been before. As if some part of her had slipped away.
Was Mae weeping now for the man in the yellow suit? In spite of her wish to spare the world, did she wish he were alive again? There was no way of knowing. But Mae had done what she thought she had to do.
"I mean, what'll they say to you after, when they find out?"
"I don't know," said Winnie, "but it doesn't matter. Tell your father I want to help. I have to help. If it wasn't for me, there wouldn't have been any trouble in the first place."