Annie, Get Your Similes!

Natasha Bronn '07, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

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In A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard brings us to sit beside a grassy creek under the warmth of a blue mountain as she shows us how to explore the surroundings. With anecdotes of her own life as a nature lover, vivid descriptions of the rivers and bogs of Virginia and insight into the workings and meanings of the universe, Dillard both questions and attempts to explain the intricate relationship between beauty and horror in this world. She speaks with wisdom -- and often in similes. Each of her paragraphs is like a small essays in itself as they team with description and run over with stories and histories taken from a myriad of places.

An interesting connection that Dillard explores and attempts to show us is that between nature and humans. Though her book primarily discusses the natural world, she refuses to deny the reality of human intervention in it as well as the place of nature in our ever-technological lives.

At times, Dillard creates an interesting juxtaposition by using similes of human creation and action to describe very natural phenomena.

It's the most beautiful day of the year. At four o'clock the eastern sky is a dead stratus black flecked with low white clouds. The sun in the west illuminates the ground, the mountains, and especially the bare branches of trees, so that everywhere silver trees cut into the black sky like a photographer's negative of a landscape. The air and the ground are dry; the mountains are going on and off like neon signs. Clouds slide east as if pulled from the horizon, like a table cloth whipped off a table. The hemlocks by the barbed wire fence are flinging themselves east as though their backs would break.

If there is one thing that Annie Dillard would wish for the wearied masses is that we could all open our eyes a bit wider and take it all, or at least most of it, in. Her sensitive writing and personable details urge us that nature can both awe us and act as a tender companion and her graphic accounts of atrocities in the animal world force us to question the rules that guide the planet.

1. As the above excerpt displays, Dillard at times uses very human things to describe natural phenomena. Is this affective in imparting with us an image? Is there any message to be found in this?

2. Just as her writings about memories from childhood seem to clash yet harmonize with stories gruesome insect deaths to create a message, Dillard at time uses seemingly unfitting adjectives to describe things. For example "some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell" the description "beaten" clearly not coinciding with the image of the delicate and true bell. Does this type of description work? Does it catch the reader off guard or at times seem natural?

3. Reading A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, the reader learns a great deal about Dillard. She often places herself in the scenery, searching for frogs, or stumbling over tall grass. How effectively does Dillard places her self in the book? Does she place herself too frequently or too infrequently? What impression do we receive of Dillard through her writing?

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Last modified 3 December 2006