In Tuck Everlasting, Winnie is confronted with a number of choices that would be high-stakes choices for anyone, let alone for a 10-year-old like Winnie. As Winnie thinks over her choices and considers the moral implications of all her options, she begins to understand that morality isn't entirely black and white; nothing is unequivocally good or bad. However, Winnie does come to the conclusion that when she makes decisions that are based on friendship and care for others, those moral gray areas become much easier to accept and live with. Through Winnie’s experiences, the novel suggests that relying on friendship may be the best way to navigate life’s moral ambiguity.
From the start, the novel makes it very clear that every choice, no matter how small and seemingly innocuous, has the potential to carry immense consequences. Winnie initially reasons that her choice to leave her fenced yard is a safe and inconsequential one; in her mind, she's just going for a walk in her family's wood, which she has every right to do. It doesn't take long, however, for her to see that this choice has changed her life forever. The novel draws similarities between this seemingly innocuous choice and the choice that the Tuck family made 87 years ago, when they first drank from the enchanted brook. Like Winnie, they never expected the choice to quench their thirst to have any lasting or negative consequences, and yet, this choice completely transforms their lives. Importantly, what happens to Winnie after she leaves her yard and what happens to the Tucks after they drink from the brook aren't things that they can anticipate or control. Mae, Jesse, and Miles bundle Winnie off without her consent, while the Tucks become immortal without choosing to do so. These sudden turns of events impress upon the reader that though a person can do their best to engage with options logically and with an open mind, it's sometimes impossible to know what the consequences of one’s choices will be.
In the events that follow, the novel suggests that one of the most effective ways to make decisions in light of this moral ambiguity is to develop friendships and relationships with others. This, per the novel's logic, introduces people to other points of view and ways of life that are crucial to coming to terms with the moral implications of one's actions. The Tuck family helps guide Winnie in this direction as they implore her to believe their story and agree to keep the stream secret. Notably, they also understand that the choice to tell or remain silent will be Winnie's choice and her choice alone. By respecting her autonomy, the Tucks create space for Winnie to truly consider their stories. As a result, Winnie eventually appreciates their humanity, decides that they're her friends, and learns to trust herself in making morally complex decisions.
Because Winnie considers Mae a friend and thinks that she's a kind and generous person, Winnie ultimately decides that Mae's choice to kidnap Winnie--though wrong from a legal perspective--wasn't wrong in a moral sense. Further, Winnie recognizes that her kidnapping is a relatively minor offense compared to what would happen if the secret of the brook were to get out. This doesn't mean, however, that Mae's murder of the man in the yellow suit is easy for Winnie to accept. Though Winnie is scared of the man and understands the many negative implications of selling the water, she never fully reconciles the wellbeing of the wider world with the violent, purposeful, and untimely death of a single person. This reminds the reader that Winnie is still in the process of learning to live with this kind of ambiguity, while also suggesting that in some cases, it doesn't actually get easier as a person becomes more mature--even Angus is disturbed by Mae's actions.
However, Winnie's friendship with Mae ultimately leads Winnie to make moral choices herself, even if Mae's choices to protect Winnie were questionably moral. When Winnie learns that the constable intends to hang Mae for the murder of the man in the yellow suit, she knows that this cannot happen: Mae won't die and will therefore end up giving away the secret she killed a man to protect. Winnie also suggests that because Mae acted for the good of humanity, she doesn't deserve to be punished. To help right the situation, Winnie volunteers to trade places with Mae when Angus, Jesse, and Miles go to break her out of jail, as this will give the Tucks more time to escape. This action represents several major leaps for Winnie. First, it indicates that she understands that her choices have consequences--she could get in a great deal of trouble for helping to free a convicted murderer. Second, it shows that Winnie recognizes that this is a sacrifice worth making for someone she considers a dear friend. Importantly, even Winnie's mother accepts the explanation that Winnie behaved as she did because Mae is her friend. This suggests that this reasoning makes sense even to the novel's authority figures, who have presumably had to face similar challenges themselves even though Winnie finds them uninteresting.
Ultimately, Tuck Everlasting leaves the reader with a number of morally ambiguous situations and outcomes. Mae never has to answer for murdering the man in the yellow suit, though she presumably has the rest of time to think about her actions--something that the novel implies could be either fair given the weight of the crime, or overly harsh since Mae will never be able to forget. Similarly, while Winnie kindly gives the magical water from Jesse to the toad when a dog harasses it, it's unclear whether this is truly in the toad's best interests--a dog or other animal could still certainly harass it, and it’s also implied that it could get hit by a car. However, the novel still seems to insist that the true decider of whether a choice or action is moral or not is whether it's intended to care for a friend or another vulnerable individual. This perspective leaves room for moral ambiguity and suggests that the intention behind a choice matters just as much as the action itself.
Morality, Choices, and Friendship ThemeTracker
Morality, Choices, and Friendship Quotes in Tuck Everlasting
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.
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.
It sounded rather sad to Winnie, never to belong anywhere. "That's too bad," she said, glancing shyly at Mae. "Always moving around and never having any friends or anything."
"Life's got to be lived, no matter how long or short," she said calmly. "You got to take what comes. We just go along, like everybody else, one day at a time."
"Not Winnie!" she said between clenched teeth. "You ain't going to do a thing like that to Winnie. And you ain't going to give out the secret." Her strong arms swung the shotgun round her head, like a wheel. The man in the yellow suit jerked away, but it was too late. With a dull cracking sound, the stock of the shotgun smashed into the back of his skull. He dropped like a tree, his face surprised, his eyes wide open.
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."
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."
Leaving the house was so easy that Winnie felt faintly shocked. She had half expected that the instant she put a foot on the stairs they would leap from their beds and surround her with accusations. But no one stirred. And she was struck by the realization that, if she chose, she could slip out night after night without their knowing. The thought made her feel more guilty than ever that she should once more take advantage of their trust.