Teaching a Stone to Talk Summary
by Annie Dillard

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Teaching a Stone to Talk Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters resembles both Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Holy the Firm in that Dillard is still seeking answers to what she considers to be key questions: What is the universe about? What is the god like who created such a place as this? How is it possible to make sense of a universe that contains so much destructive energy and violence? In this book she again hunts for the silent god who created the natural world that Dillard often finds disturbingly violent and indifferent. This time, rather than center her investigations around one locale, as she did in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she ranges far afield. Dillard is adamant that her other books are not, as some critics and reviewers have asserted, collections of essays; as far as she is concerned, only Teaching a Stone to Talk fits that description.

A trip to the Galápagos Islands provides her with the opportunity to examine evolutionary theory in her essay “Life on the Rocks: The Galápagos.” In “The Deer of Providencia,” she describes a small deer caught and suffering in a hunter’s snare, unable to do anything but injure itself more severely as it struggles. “Total Eclipse” recounts her experiences in Yakima, Washington, during a total eclipse of the sun when she felt overwhelmed by the power of nature as the moon’s shadow slammed across the earth. She shared the primal fear that the sun’s light would be extinguished forever. “Living Like Weasels” discusses the fierce competitive energy of these hunters, and Dillard wonders if, freed from the constraints of society, she could fight as viciously for her survival as they do every day.

As in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Dillard uses the things that surround her as starting points in her search for meaning in a violent, indifferent universe. Unlike in the earlier book, however, she occasionally interacts with other people. Here she tries to fit in, to feel comfortable in a world that seems to threaten from all sides and at all times. Sometimes the world looks like home, while at others it appears completely unfamiliar and aloof.

In “An Expedition to the Pole” she interweaves a description of the Catholic church that she attends (after having given up her family’s Presbyterianism...

(The entire section is 594 words.)