Tuck Everlasting has a profound theme for a children's novel. The teaser on the cover reads, "What if you could live forever?" This question is explored with surprising depth and pathos in the story. The Tuck family—Tuck, Mae, Miles, and Jesse—have drunk water from a magic spring that renders them incapable of growing old or dying. What might seem like an astounding blessing turns out to be a curse for them, or at least for the oldest three Tucks. The novel reveals four different takes on immortality, three of which are predominantly negative and one of which is naively positive. After being exposed to all four perspectives, Winnie must decide for herself whether she wants to take on the special ability the Tucks have.
Mae Tuck tries to put a positive face on her plight by keeping a relatively cheerful and sanguine attitude, but it is apparent that her immortality prevents her from enjoying the normal progress of life as a wife, mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother. To avoid suspicion of neighbors and townsfolk, the Tucks live in isolation; Mae only sees her sons once every ten years. Neither of them has married, so she hasn't known the satisfaction of seeing her sons move into adulthood and raise families of their own. Her weary days are always the same until she meets Winnie. When she stops by the sofa at bedtime and says to Winnie, "We been alone so long. . . . I wish you was . . . ours," her heartache becomes apparent.
When Tuck takes Winnie out on the pond in the rowboat, he explains to her about the beauty of the circle of life. He says:
Dying's part of the wheel, right there next to being born. . . . Being part of the whole thing, that's the blessing. But it's passing us by, us Tucks. Living's heavy work, but off to one side, the way we are, it's useless, too. It don't make sense. If I knowed how to climb back on the wheel, I'd do it in a minute.
Clearly Tuck finds the cycle of life, even growing old and dying, preferable to a life of static immortality.
Miles echoes some of his father's sentiments, and he shares his personal sorrow of having to let his wife and children live out their normal lives without him. When Winnie says that it would be nice if nothing ever had to die, he broadens the perspective to consider how universal immortality would affect the planet and mankind. The earth would quickly become overpopulated and overcrowded. He reaffirms the necessity of the natural cycle of life, aging, and death.
Jesse alone seems enthusiastic about living forever. He tells Winnie, "Ma and Pa and Miles, they don't know how to enjoy it, what we got." He encourages Winnie to drink the water and marry him when she turns seventeen. They could tour the world together and have unending fun. Yet the fact that he is looking for a partner to share his lot suggests that he, like Miles and his parents, is lonely.
Readers learn from the epilogue that Winnie didn't take Jesse up on his offer. She lived a normal life as a wife and mother and eventually died. Though the thought is sad, the theme of the book encourages readers to appreciate the natural cycle of life and the joys that changing, growing older, and living a full life can bring. Living in the company of others who are at various stages in the life cycle has a beauty that should be cherished. As good as immortality sounds, the type of immortality that the Tucks had did not bring them as much satisfaction as the normal progress of life can bring.