The narrator of Tuck Everlasting is keenly interested in the natural world; the narration frequently mentions the weather, the animals, and the plants that inhabit Treegap and the surrounding countryside. While the narrator's observations primarily function to illustrate the splendor of the natural world, Angus Tuck takes this appreciation one step further by encouraging Winnie and the reader to see the natural world as a metaphor for the cycles of life. By engaging with this metaphor and gaining a deeper appreciation of the natural world, Winnie discovers that life needs to remain cyclical--that is, all beings need to experience life and death--in order for the entire world to remain beautiful and functional.
The narrator suggests that the natural world and its cycles are essentially a giant wheel that connects all people to each other in mysterious ways. For example, the narrator takes great care to note that the events of the novel could only take place in the first week of August, which "hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning." The narrator suggests that this "pause," combined with the way that this metaphorical wheel connects people, is why Winnie meets the Tucks in the wood and why the villainous man in the yellow suit also shows up in the wood at this particular point in time. The wood itself is an important player in this cycle as the narrator asserts that it, not the planet's core, is the center of Winnie and the Tucks' world. To illustrate its central role, the wood contains the ash tree and its magical stream—whose waters can stop a person from aging and allow them to live forever. In other words, per the novel's logic, the water from the brook turns a person into a fixed point at the very center of a metaphorical wheel. While other people, animals, and plants grow, change, and die, a person who can live forever is stuck in time and cannot change, which the novel suggests prevents them from truly living.
When Angus Tuck takes Winnie out on his boat, he makes a similar point using a natural metaphor on a slightly smaller scale. Angus rows the boat across the pond--which is fed on one end by a stream that continues out the other side--until he reaches the downstream side of the pond and gets the boat stuck in some roots and weeds. Angus then tells Winnie about the water cycle: the water in the pond is very much alive with fish, insects, and plants, even if it looks still. Additionally, on a grander scale, the water currently in the pond will eventually reach the ocean and, some time after that, fall back into the pond as rain. The boat caught in the roots, however, is like the Tucks: stuck and unable to complete the cycle, something that Angus suggests makes him little better than a rock or an inanimate object. As far as Angus is concerned, stopping the cycle of nature or the great wheel of the world is a crime worse than any other and, beyond that, is extremely painful to bear. He explains how Miles's wife took their two children away after 20 years of marriage, when it became impossible to ignore the fact that Miles still looked 22. Miles never got to see his children grow and develop, and he has to live daily with the pain of knowing that he has great-grandchildren out there somewhere whom he can't connect with, as it would be "unnatural" for him to do so as a person who will never get any older.
Through all of this, Winnie only gradually begins to understand the necessity of death, something that, at 10 years old, frightens her immensely. At first, she's unconvinced that dying is at all necessary or a good thing. However, while fishing with Miles, a biting mosquito makes her question what the world would be like if mosquitos never died but continued to multiply--eventually, they'd crowd out everything else. Similarly, Angus suggests that if all humans lived forever and multiplied, they--as well as the natural world, which would struggle to support its inhabitants--would suffer as well. While this all begins to push Winnie in the direction of accepting that death is an essential part of the cycle of life on earth, she only truly understands the importance of death when the man in the yellow suit, who wants to bottle the stream's water and sell it to "worthy" people, threatens to force her to drink the water. He believes that a child performing deadly tasks to demonstrate the water's efficacy would be more compelling to potential buyers than an adult performer. To stop this from happening, Mae hits the man in the yellow suit over the head with the butt of her rifle, ultimately killing him.
Though Winnie is understandably disturbed that Mae commits murder, she also recognizes that Mae does this to save Winnie, the rest of humanity, and the natural world from the unspeakable fate of never dying. Winnie begins to grasp not that dying isn’t just important—it’s an absolute necessity. Indeed, she chooses to take Angus's advice to not drink the brook's water and eventually dies at the age of 78. The novel suggests that in some way, every death--of a human or an animal--is as important and as meaningful as the death of the man in the yellow suit. While not all deaths remove dangerous people from the world, all deaths create a space for new beings to begin their own journeys around the wheel of life, and this cycle is what keeps the world as a whole in balance.
Nature and the Cycle of Life ThemeTracker
Nature and the Cycle of Life Quotes in Tuck Everlasting
No connection, you would agree. But things can come together in strange ways. The wood was at the center, the hub of the wheel. All wheels must have a hub. A Ferris wheel has one, as the sun is the hub of the wheeling calendar. Fixed points they are, and best left undisturbed, for without them, nothing holds together. But sometimes people find this out too late.
"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."
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."
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. 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."
"It'd be nice," she said, "if nothing ever had to die."
"Well now, I don't know," said Miles. "If you think on it, you come to see there'd be so many creatures, including people, we'd all be squeezed in right up next to each other before long."
"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.
"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.