Themes and Characters
What would it be like to live forever? Most of us, if we think of eternal life, see it either in generally vague religious terms or as a sort of wish fulfillment fantasy. Our vision of such a life includes the assumption of either a transcendent wisdom which will eliminate all the problems of our current lives or eternal youth, a sort of never-ending summer vacation. But what if, as Babbitt suggests, immortality simply froze people at the age they were when they drank from the fountain? What would it be like going on forever as a tired, late middle aged man or woman? As a frustrated husband, still in his prime, but forever separated from his family? As a naive and energetic adolescent, never quite coming of age?
It was a new idea to her that people could live in such disarray, but at the same time she was charmed.
Winnie Foster, a young girl just on the edge of adolescence, is intensely frustrated by the boundaries which her parents have placed on her life. She yearns to see the world and to have adventures. At first, she is attracted to the Tucks' freedom, both from the restraints of a middle-class life style and from the tyranny of aging. Gradually, however, she comes to realize that real joy is only possible in the presence of the change which goes hand-in-hand with the aging process. The Tucks do not change. To use Angus Tuck's own image, they've fallen off the wheel of life. Angus and Mae Tuck, although uneducated, are endearing and wise in their limited way. Their sons, Miles and Jesse, are, or appear to be, fine young men. Jesse, in particular, is spirited and attractive.
But ultimately the Tucks are terminally bored and perhaps a bit boring. They have forever, but because each of their days is essentially identical to the last, they, in effect, have nothing. Although Jesse does attempt to convince Winnie to join him in eternal life, his parents make it clear that their situation is far more of a burden than a blessing.