by Natalie Babbitt
We're reading a book called Tuck Everlasting, right? And there's an entire family that we call the Tucks? Hmmm. Then why is the main character Winnie Foster?
We're glad we asked. Without Winnie, we would never get that peek into the immortal world of the Tuck family. She definitely gets a gold star for helpfulness on that one, but she's also a super-developed character in her own right. So let's take a look.
When we first meet her, Winnie is not a happy camper. She's ten years old, and she's totally sick of her helicopter family who hovers over her every move:
"See?" said Winnie to the toad. "That's just what I mean. It's like that every minute. If I had a sister or a brother, there'd be someone else for them to watch. But, as it is, there's only me. I'm tired of being looked at all the time. I want to be by myself for a change […] 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." (3.6)
We're all for parental supervision, but we also know how much it stinks to never have any alone time. You know, time to shine. Because Winnie feels so trapped, she has a major desire to break free. That means that even leaving her own yard turns into a rebellion. Heck, even reaching through the fence to grab a toad feels rebellious. It's no surprise that one of her greatest ambitions early on is "to be by [herself] for a change."
Growing Up Is Hard to Do
When Winnie gets kind-of-kidnapped by the Tucks, she's in for quite a change. She goes from being a ten-year-old kid with no independence to, well, the belle of the ball who needs to grow up quick.
First, she gets her first crush. We don't know about you, but Shmoop's first crush was a life-changing ordeal. It really makes you feel grown-up, like you have your own desires—something that belongs just to you. Even if it is just in your head.
On top of that, Winnie even plays the role of adult among the Tucks. We find her comforting them when they're down and sticking up for them when they're in trouble. And when the Tucks are telling her their story, the narrator uses language to show us that Winnie is kind of the leader of the pack:
It was the strangest story Winnie had ever heard. She soon suspected they had never told it before, except to each other—that she was their first real audience; for they gathered around her like children at their mother's knee, each trying to claim her attention, and sometimes they all talked at once, and interrupted each other, in their eagerness. (7.1)
If the Tucks are the "children" telling the story, excitedly looking for attention, Winnie is the "mother" whose attention is demanded. It's almost a reversal of what she's used to at home. Sure, she's still the object of everybody's focus, but this kind of attention is flattering and makes her feel grown-up. The attention at home, on the other hand, is almost imprisoning.
Secrets and Sacrifices
While we're on the growing-up-fast topic, nothing will make you mature as quickly as seeing a guy bashed in the head with the base of a shotgun. (Don't try this at home.) What's more, she has to keep everything she knows a total secret. And once she's back with her family, it's pretty obvious that something has changed:
"You mean, [ownership of the wood will come back to our family] 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. (21.4)
What is it that slipped away from her? Her childhood, maybe? Her innocence? What do you think?
Meeting the Tucks grants Winnie's wish: after all, she does experience "something interesting—something that's all [hers]" (3.6). She gets a secret that's hers for life, an experience that nobody else would ever believe, and a choice nobody else has ever gotten to make. (Oh yeah, and she witnesses a murder and helps a convicted criminal escape execution. NBD.)
Winnie had to give up a lot in order to make her wish come true. Was it worth it?
To Drink or Not to Drink? That Is the Question
As you can tell, Winnie's character makes us ask a lot of questions. And some of these questions are pretty deep. We're talking the big guns: the meaning of life and death.
Through the Tucks, Winnie learns that immortality might not be all it's cracked up to be. Remember when Tuck stares enviously at the dying Yellow Suit Guy (20.12)? Winnie definitely notices that. And she knows what it means—Tuck wishes that he, too, had the chance to die. Living forever has gotten kind of old. On the other hand, if she becomes immortal, she has the opportunity to be with Jesse forever. Forever. Not bad for a first crush.
At the end of the book, she realizes that she doesn't have to decide right away. After all, she's still only ten. If Winnie does decide to drink from the spring, she can live her life first, and then pick her moment. In a way, she's got all the power in the world.
As we learn in the epilogue, Winnie decided not to drink. And from what the Tucks say, that's no surprise: "'[Jesse] knowed she wasn't coming. We all knowed that, long time ago'" (Epilogue.27). What about you—were you surprised? What in Winnie's character could have given us a clue that she wouldn't drink, that she'd choose life over immortality?Timeline