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141 of 148 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My Review, May 1, 2000
This review is from: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Paperback)
I was assigned to read Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for my AP English III class. We had just finished reading Henry David Thoreau's Walden, or Life In The Woods a few weeks prior, and our teacher had told us that Dillards writing style was similar to Thoreau's. Now, I'm not a big Thoreau fan (as my test grade proves), so this was not consoling to me. Over spring break I picked up the book and began to read it. She starts simply "I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my head in the middle of the night and land on my chest." From that sentence on, I was hooked. There are two parts to this book, a via positiva, and a via negativa. The beginning is filled with life, positive imagery, and numerous quotes from Thoreau and van Gough. Dillard covers her perspectives on Heaven and earth, seeing, winter, and "the fixed" in this section using such qualities as listed before. The via negativa begins somewhere in
chapter five or six. It creeps in, slowly taking over the positive images and feelings, until you finally find that you are reading about children abusing newts in a state park, or caterpillars walking in the same circle around the same vase for seven full days, because their leader was taken away without their knowledge. Death is a reoccurring theme here. A main question in my class was what happened to make her change styles? Was it planned, or was it the effect of some event--the death of a friend or loved one perhaps? Either way, we read on through the spring and summer, and into the fall. She leads us into a flood, where she says, "I like crossing the dam. If I fall, I might not get up again...I face this threat every time I cross the dam, and it is always exhilarating." Her aesthetic sense of word choice described the monarch butterfly, "A monarch at rest looks like a fleck of tiger, stilled and wide-eyed." We notice though that while she uses such
descriptive tone, it is more heavily applied during the via negativa section. The most enjoyable sections for me were her beginning statements, which were filled with stories. Her old tom cat, life's hidden treasures, and even the history of the starlings can be found in the opening paragraphs of each chapter. This catches the attention of the reader, because it is written in an intimate tone, and it prepares them for what lies ahead. Such stories or memories usually reoccur in the end, bringing her point full-circle. Dillard's perspective on religion is questionable. She appears to favor both religion and creationism throughout the book, yet she never sides with one more so than the other. She uses biblical references to Jacob's cattle, a scripture from the Koran, but then also personifies nature, giving it actions of its own free will. She knows stories from the Bible, yet she knows just as much about evolution. A pro-creation/ Christian perhaps? This _was_ written during the 1970's. Perhaps Annie Dillard and Henry David Thoreau do have the same writing-style. Personally I found Thoreau too redundant and long-winded, while Dillard is more natural. One can almost hear her talking; her stories included in the book as reference to a pervious statement are filled with the tone of her voice, although we have never heard her speak. That's a quality she has, making the readers feel as if they have known her for years after reading the book. So why should someone who doesn't take AP English III read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek? Simple. It makes you look at life differently. It gives you a new respect for nature, and a new knowledge of insects and animals. It's good material for anyone doing a report on Eskimos. But overall, it will open your mind to a philosophical side of nature.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 18, 2009 7:34:57 AM PDT
This is a helpful review, but one comment: It seems you've mixed the words "creation" and "evolution" in your review. You remark "Dillard's perspective on religion is questionable. She appears to favor both religion and creationism throughout the book, yet she never sides with one more so than the other." Religion and creationism are not typically opposed, rather they go hand-in-hand. Also, you write "She knows stories from the Bible, yet she knows just as much about evolution. A pro-creation/ Christian perhaps?" This should not be surprising--many who call themselves Christians believe in an intelligent creator originated all things, rather than evolutionary process.

Otherwise, thank you for the helpful comments.
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