The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Heaven and Earth in Jest

  1. What are some connotations of the book's title? Of the title of the subsection?
  2. What are some features of Dillard's style? Some of her preoccupations?
  3. What is the significance of the opening scene/metaphor of the cat who bloodies her body?
  4. What kind of scenes does Dillard describe? (the frog being eaten, the light, the steer, the sunset (823)?
  5. What are some of her philosophic/religious preoccupations? 818, 821, 822
  6. Which aspects of her response to nature are aesthetic? 821
  7. What is the narrator's response to the problem of cruelty? 821
  8. How should we respond to the beauty and grace of the natural world? 821, 822, 823-24
  9. What metaphors does she use for her desire to learn? 824 For the relation of humans and nature? 825
  10. What hints do we have that a full consciousness of nature may also be unpelasant? 824, 825
  11. Does Dillard's writing remind you of that of Thoreau? How is she similar? different?

The Fixed

  1. What is the purpose of the description of the moth unable to open its wings? Who/what is responsible for his pain?
  2. Which aspects of her description convey the horror of his situation?
  3. What seems to you unusual about this account, if anything?

The Present

What is the purpose of this scene? Does the narrator experience an epiphany? What does she feel are the limitations of consciousness? 828

Does her description of sunset on the mountain suggest any of the poets we have read? (e. g. Hopkins)

Total Eclipse

I. Why does the author choose a total eclipse as the subject of several scenes? What does the eclipse come to represent?

Where does the incident take place? Why does the narrator emphasize the tone of the motel she and her husband stayed in along the way?

II. Who views the eclipse? What is striking about a total eclipse? 831, 832 Can those who have never seen one understand it? What happens to the rest of nature during the eclipse? What does she emphasize in describing her own perceptions? 833

How does she describe the precise moment of darkness? At its end, what does this experience come to signify? ("There was no world. We were the world's dead people rotating and orbiting around and around, embedded in the planet's crust, while the earth rolled down." 833)


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