Audience Study For Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

The audience that would fit every finger of this book’s metaphorical glove is the audience that enjoys reading a sentence, or a paragraph, and then reading it again and again, first for clarity, then for understanding, and over and over again and again for the many facets of symbolic representation that Dillard paints with substantial amount of clarity. One commentator of Dillard’s writing described Dillard’s thinking as “acrobatic” and I am almost positive that the word [i.e., acrobatic] would probably describe Dillard’s thinking style better than any other. Take, for example, the following:

“But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally 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.”

So philosophical and so hopeful…at least in this paragraph! The ideal of making your own days by the cultivation of “virtues” is probably appealing to any reader who believes in the incredible power of the mind. (p. 17, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Nature lovers will also enjoy this book as will philosophers whose minds don’t take the one-track-minded path of philosophy and do not object to philosophical gymnastics. Those lovers of nature and philosophy will enjoy Dillard’s ability to find connections between nature and the metaphysics of life; the theory that learning, knowledge and everything necessary is available in anything observable—even the particles of an atom-is apparent throughout this work. Dillard jumps from the cataclysmic universe to the single-celled rotifers of a pond nearby Dillard’s home:

“Donald E. Carr points out that the sense impressions of one-celled animals are not edited for the brain: “This is philosophically interesting in a rather mournful way, since it means that only the simplest animals perceive the universe as it is.” (p. 21, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Those readers who enjoy a conglomeration of writings built by the skillful networking of an author who constantly references the works of other distinguished authors are also likely to find Dillard’s work intriguing. She [Dillard] must reference at least a dozen authors or movements throughout the book:

“Like a true transcendentalist, Miss Dillard understands her task to be that of full alertness.” (p. 284, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

For those aficionados and drinkers of irony and paradox this is the stuff that Miss Dillard’s mind and subsequent writing style are made of. Take for instance her commentary on our nearest solar star:

“We have really only that one light, one source for all power, and yet we must turn away from it by universal decree.” (p. 25, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek).

Dillard’s humor-often borderline macabre-allows the reader to-in one moment-put life in proper perspective and realize our common desire for power and understanding….for control and the ability to take our part in an Earth that seems-falsely at times-subservient to our will and knowledge:

“Shall I take it outside and show it Andromeda, and blow its little endoplasm?” (p. 26, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek).


“What’s this?” she asked. That, I wanted to say as I recognized the prize she held, is a memento mori for people who read too much.” (p. 92, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Dillard’s chapter on “Seeing” is perhaps her greatest contribution to the true-yet invisible-connections between the physical and the metaphysical. Take, for example, her commentary on the blind that experience sight for the first time(s):

“It oppresses them to realize that they have been visible to people all along, perhaps unattractively so, without their knowledge or consent.” (p.30, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)


“Some do learn to see, especially the young ones. But it changes their lives. One doctor comments on “the rapid and complete loss of that striking and wonderful serenity which is characteristic only of those who have never yet seen.” (p. 30, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)


“Why didn’t someone hand those newly sighted people paints and brushes from the start, when they still didn’t know what anything was? Then maybe we all could see color-patches too, the world unraveled from reason, Eden before Adam gave names.” (p. 32, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Dillard’s word play is also outstanding and will continually elicit the spine-chills and other physical affects of words organized well:

“I couldn’t unpeach the peaches.” (p. 32, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)


“…discalced and shod…” (p.35, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Reason and the reality or foolishness in a belief in God…in organization…in goodness……are also implicit themes within Dillard’s work:

“If, as Heraclitus suggests, god, like an oracle, neither “declares nor hides, but sets forth by signs, “then clearly I had better be scrying the signs.” (p. 65, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Dillard’s personal anecdotes also add an original and personally insightful flavor to the book not to mention the fact that Dillard often refers to the possibility of meeting her readers:

“Self-consciousness is the curse of the city and all that sophistication implies. It is the glimpse of oneself in a storefront window, the unbidden awareness of reactions on the faces of other people-the novelist’s world, not the poet’s. 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.” (p. 82, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Seemingly random facts-later tied into seemingly ethereal metaphors-are one of the nicest elements of Dillard’s styling throughout this work:

“Before they invested the unit of the second, people used to time the lapse of short events on their pulses.” (p.94, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Perhaps one of the overarching theme (hopefully THE overarching theme) of this work can be painted with this paragraph:

“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them.” (p. 245, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)