Dillard's Web of Words

Jonathan Bortlinger '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

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The beauty and the horror of nature fascinate Annie Dillard. She spends hours examining the smallest forms of life. She knows that insects can take on intricate forms, giving birth to a new generation in explosions of a million new bodies. Her writing also captures the other side of insect life, eating -- Eating to survive but also to eliminate competitors. Dillard, who recognizes how destructive the natural world can be, has developed a trained eye, which is accustomed to observing insects. Dillard has also produced several tones for describing the activity of insects and relating them to human behaviors.

Even the spiders are restless under this wind, roving about alert-eyed over their fluff in every corner. I allow the spiders the run of the house. I figure that nay predator that hopes to make a living on whatever smaller creatures might blunder into a four-inch square bit of space in the corner of the bathroom where the tub meets the floor, needs every bit of my support. They catch flies and even field crickets in those webs. Large spiders in barns have been known to trap, wrap, and suck hummingbirds. But there's no danger of that here. I tolerate the webs, only occasionally sweeping away the very dirtiest of them after the spider itself has scrambled to safety.


1. Dillard uses phrases like "Large spiders in barns have been known to trap, rarp, and suck hummingbirds," throughout her book. How does Dillard's use of outside knowledge from research and reading about insects and animals lend her more ethos in discussing her observations of nature.

2. How does the language Dillard uses to describe a phenomena that she has read about contrast with the language she uses to describe her own observations of nature?

3. Dillard is conscientious of the presence of insects, especially spiders in this passage, and wants to live alongside them. Does this scene contrast from other passages in her book because in this scene we see Dillard directly benefiting from how spiders eliminate other pests, whereas in other scenes insects are primarily valued for their ascetic and philosophical importance?

4. Dillard uses short sentences like "I allow the spiders the run of the house," throughout her book. How does she vary the length of her sentences to capture the simple feel of Tinker Creek? What is the effect of inserting a short sentence in a string of longer, richer, sentences?

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Last modified 3 December 2006