Dillard and People

Brian Baskin '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

Dillard's interactions with people in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek are few and far between. When they do come, they tend to reflect badly on humanity. Consider the following passage:

There were many times more red-spotted newts at the edge of the lake than there were children; the supply exceeded even that very heavy demand. One child was collecting them in a Thermos mug to take hom to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to feed an ailing cayman. Other children ran to their mothers with squirming fistfuls. One boy was mistreating the newts spectacularly: he squeezed them by their tails and threw them at a shoreline stone, one by one. I tried to reason with him, but nothing worked. Finally he asked me, "Is this one a male?" and in a fit of inspiration I said, "No, it's a baby." He cried, "Oh, isn't he cute!" and cradled the newt carefully back into the water. [110]

The children have no idea they are being cruel, because they don't appear to view the newts as fellow living creatures on a level high enough to warrant mercy. Dillard obviously differs, as she is haunted by the expression in a frog's eyes as it is sucked dry by a water beetle.

Does Dillard judge humanity in passages like this?

Does she consider her view of nature to be superior?

On the other hand, does Dillard see herself as separate, or an outcast, for thinking about nature more deeply than her fellow campers at the creek?

How does Dillard balance her value of life, that would lead her to argue with a child over the fate of a newt, with her constant observation of nature's wastefulness when it comes to doing the same?


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Last modified 13 June 2002