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Annie Dillard claims to be madly in love with muskrats, mantises, puppies, and frogs. Nonetheless, she is disturbed by the emergence of the innard-sucking, venom-spitting, and massive water bugs. The essay "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" was published in 1974, and the poet, Annie Dillard, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 while observing wildlife in Virginia's Roanoke Valley (Davis 4). The plot starts as Annie decides to chat about her cat, which used to claw her face after creeping through the window at night. She winds up in Virginia's Roanoke Valley, where Tinker Creek is destined. Dillard used a poetic and dense writing style. The title is ironical, as there are no elements of pilgrimage in the whole text. However, the ending is meticulous and outstanding, as the author reconciles all the challenges of nature and humanity she faces at the Creek (Davis 44). Other than scrutinizing the similes, metaphors, symbols, irony, personification, diction , imagery, point of view, characterization, setting, theme, tone, and plot in the text; it is critical as well to discuss how the literary elements influence the audience and drive the author`s point home; scenes that provoke emotions and enhance understanding.
The setting of this essay is very critical to its plot, and even the themes that are exploited by the author. In her adulthood, Dillard moved to Virginia, despite the many mentions she makes about Pennsylvania, where she spent her childhood, and in fact, Pittsburgh where she was brought up (Davis 3). The Blue Ridge Mountains is the literary setting of the essay, in the town of Roanoke; Tinker Creek. The microcosm takes center stage. However, Dillard keeps moving from one end of the Creek to the other. Perhaps her argument that “I've lived there. I remember what the city has to offer: human companionship, major-league baseball, and a clatter of quickening stimulus like a rush from strong drugs that leaves you drained” better explain why she does not enjoy city life (Davis 8).
The point of view, the genre, and the tone are critical ingredients of Dillard`s work. The narrator`s point of view in the “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” is a notification experience of a particular time in history. It is typically a memoir of the individual who witnessed the same. In essence, the author, Dillard is talking to her audience about what she read, saw and felt about the occasion. The central narrator is in the first person tense. The genre engaged is a description of the author`s memoir, highlighting specific events in particular occasions in her lifetime. Consequently, she mentions the flood that occurred way back in 1974 and regularly notes about the hiding pennies chronology (Davis 62). The tone of the text runs from an introspective end to a boring and psychotic extreme. For instance, the element in the tone comes out when Dillard`s audience listen to her say, “It is spring. I plan to try to control myself this year, to watch the progress of the season in a calm and orderly fashion. In spring I am prone to wretched excess. I abandon myself to flights and compulsions; I veer into various states of physical disarray” (Davis 28).
The plot in the “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” is structured in such a way that exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution come in an orderly consistency. The exposition begins with Dillard holding many books at the Creek, and wondering what nature beholds. She explains this figuratively through her violent cat that jumps through the window to claw her, "We wake, if we ever wake at all, to the mystery, rumors of death, beauty, violence…" (Davis 31). The rising action sets in when Dillard goes out to examine creatures. Though she is not a scientist, she has done a lot of research, and hence she has related the experience to outline what she needs to observe. The climax of the plot comes on board after Dillard has learned so much, and through her observations, her audience can learn much insight into what nature beholds, both simple and complex. She ends up asking basic but intriguing questions about nature, “Why should there be such intricacy and fecundity in the natural world if it's so easy for everything to die?” (Davis 53). Nevertheless, at the falling action, Dillard suddenly is compelled to recognize and appreciate that nature is balanced. That human understanding is limited, hence the ugliness and the beauty of the world and all creatures therein at the same time. Elements like death are just part of the beauty of life in an ecosystem. Finally, the plot is crowned by a resolution, whence Dillard contents that both suffering and beauty coincide. She further notes that despite the upheavals of living, nature is stable the way God created the world, and everybody should be thankful, at the same time thoughtful to better be doing what is expected of them.
Offerings, the Cat, and Pennies are used to portray the allegory, the imagery, and the symbolism utilized by Dillard in “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” The offerings in the text are divided into two segments, the via negative and the via positive, “There is the wave breast of thanksgiving—a catching God's eye with the easy motions of praise—and a time for it. In ancient Israel's rites for a voluntary offering of thanksgiving… In addition to the wave breast of thanksgiving, there is the heave shoulder” (Davis 36). Since God is omnipotent and omnipresent, anything said of Him is untrue. Consequently, the symbol of the offering is used by Dillard to teach her audience the essence of not having “to unconditionally approve of something to respect and revere it” (Davis 73). On the contrary, the Cat is symbolically used in the text, right from the opening and the ending, “I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest” and she ends “I've been bloodied and mauled, wrung, dazzled, drawn. I taste salt on my lips in the early morning” (Davis 46). The Cat experience serves to give the reader how Dillard changes in person after a year at the Creek. She notes that unlike what she used to know, her understanding of the world has suddenly changed, "What blood was this, and what roses? (Davis 21). Indeed, Dillard has since learned that living is a form of fear and that every scar is a manifestation of God`s care, as is manifested in her highly predisposed life at the Tinker Creek. In the end, Dillard has changed emotionally, psychologically, and physically, an experience which challenges her audiences to look at life in a diverse perspective. Dillard begins her second chapter by mention the penny, which would later unfold as a literary symbol in her text, “When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it from someone else to find” (Davis 41). Indeed, a penny has a very little value in the eyes of the elderly. However, children value it as might. Consequently, Dillard has decided to go to the Creek to learn the world a new, and see mother nature in the child`s eye, for her to learn, emulate, and make new conclusions about life. She confirms her new understanding of the world by saying, “if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days… It is that simple… What you see is what you get” (Davis 52). Finally, she agrees that if she sees and loves nature the way a child does to a penny, then she will find happiness and be prosperous. The three symbols relate to typically human lives on earth, and Dillard compels her audience to explore all options to make life meaningful.
All the literary elements Dillard employs in her work helps her audience to realize and focus on the themes that are discussed in the text; Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Isolation is a critical theme Dillard addresses, as she moves to the Creek to "see what I could see" (Davis 38). She would stay in solitude in her cabin for 16 hours a day; reading books and meditating. This teaches her audience the need for sacrificing to earn a better life, as she finally got a Pulitzer. The subject of suffering too is outlined by Dillard. While at the Creek, she sees biotic and abiotic factors interacting in the ecosystem. Primarily, she wonders why death is necessary for the first place. However, she learns that life and death are the beauty of nature, a diversity humanity has to put up with. The theme of the role of humankind while interacting with nature is very manifest. Dillard walk in the woods plainly, however, her meditation exposes her audience to how the world is nonsensical, brutal, and heartbreaking. She thus gives a new redefinition of spirituality, love, death, beauty, and seeing to her audience. Finally, one year at the Creek creates a platform for Dillard to exploit the theme of morality, consciousness, life, and mortality. It is real to her, how the life outside of the city feels like, and what should be expected in life as long as one has room to think appropriately and remain accountable. She helps us learn that mortality is inevitable and that the beauty of life is inseparably woven into all the challenges of nature.
Davis, Mary J. "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Annie Dillard." The American Biology Teacher, vol. 63, no. 1, 2001, pp. 1-76.
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