Dillard outlines her project

Anna Sussman '04 English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

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In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard presents myriad sketches of events unfolding in the natural world at a minute level. She then uses these narratives to question and examine issues in the world at large. Her process of inspection and introspection is a weighty task she takes on, but she never seems to tire of drawing parallels and making connections and insights.

In the first chapter, "Heaven and Earth in Jest," Dillard outlines her project, explaining to the reader the risks she takes and the forces she is up against, both natural and personal.

So I think about the valley. It is my leisure as well as my work, a game. It is a fierce game I have joined because it is being played anyway, a game of both skill and chance, played against an unseen adversary -- the conditions of time -- in which the payoffs, which may suddenly arrive in a blast of light at any moment, might as well come to me as anyone else. I stake the time I'm grateful to have, the energies I'm gald to direct. I risk getting stuck on the board, so to speak, unable to move in any direction, which happens enough, God knows; and I risk the searing, exhausting nightmares that plunder rest and force me face down all night long in some muddy ditch seething with hatching insects and crustaceans.

But if I can bear the nights, the days are a pleasure. I walk out; I see something, some event that would otherwise have been utterly missed and lost; or something sees me, some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell.

I am an explorer, then, and I am also a stalker, or the instrument of the hunt itself. Certain Indians used to carve long grooves along the wooden shafts of their arrows. They called the grooves "lightning marks," because they resembled the curved fissure lightning slices down the trunks of trees. The function of lightning marks is this: if the arrow fails to kill the game, blood from a deep wound will channel along the lightning mark, streak down the arrow shaft, and spatter to the ground, laying a trail dripped on broadleaves, on stones, that the barefoot and trembling archer can follow into whatever deep or rare wilderness it leads. I am the arrow shaft, carved along my length by unexpected lights and gashes from the very sky, and this book is the straying trail of blood. [12]

What does Dillard gain by describing the game as "fierce?" Does the fact that it is "being played anyway" and that the payoffs "might as well come to me as anyone else" mean that all of us should join in? What does she propose makes her well-suited to play this game?

Is her claim that "[she is] the arrow shaftÉand this book is the straying trail of blood" seem a little arrogant? What is the effect of making such a claim so early on in the book? Does she live up to this claim? /p>

What is the effect of the "barefoot and trembling archer" and the "deep or rare wilderness"? Are we, the readers, "barefoot and trembling," relying on her to lead us to things "deep or rare?" /p>

Is this a way to antagonize or entice the reader, and do you find it effective?

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Last modified 3 December 2006