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Jest and Earnest


The essay “Jest and Earnest” by Annie Dillard is a contemplative exploration of the natural world and the coexistence of beauty and cruelty within it. The author recounts her experiences walking along the island’s edge, where she enjoys scaring frogs and observing their panicked jumps into the water. This seemingly amusing activity leads her to reflect on the nature of fear and the ways in which she appreciates the frogs’ behavior.

As she continues her walk, the author comes across a small green frog that is being sucked by a giant water bug. This encounter shakes her, and she contemplates the inherent cruelty of nature, where animals devour their prey alive. She ponders the mysteries of existence, the purpose of creation, and the possibility of a divine presence.

Despite the harshness and pain found in nature, the author finds solace in the existence of beauty and grace. She recalls witnessing a mockingbird’s graceful descent and the awe-inspiring sight of sharks in a feeding frenzy. These experiences serve as reminders that beauty and grace are independent of human perception or comprehension.


1. What does Dillard look at closely and then describe for us to see?

ans: Annie Dillard looks closely at various aspects of the natural world and describes them in vivid detail for the reader to visualize. She focuses on observing and describing frogs, their movements, and their reactions when scared.

Dillard also describes the specific encounter between a small green frog and a giant water bug, detailing the frog’s physical transformation and the process of its consumption by the bug.

2. What ideas does Dillard develop out of her seeing?

ans: Dillard develops several ideas based on her observations of the natural world. One central idea is the coexistence of beauty and cruelty in nature. She reflects on the brutality of the giant water bug preying on the frog, the carnivorous habits of various animals, and the general harshness and uncertainty of survival.

3. The essay can be thought of in terms of the three creatures described. What are the three creatures? Why is each included? How are the three related in the context of Dillard`s idea?

ans: The three creatures described in the essay are the frogs, the giant water bug, and the mockingbird. Each creature is included to illustrate different aspects of the natural world and to provoke contemplation about life, beauty, and the mysteries of existence.

In the context of Dillard’s ideas, the three creatures collectively convey the paradoxes and complexities of the natural world. They highlight the coexistence of beauty and cruelty, the fragility of life, and the awe-inspiring wonders that exist alongside the harshness of existence. Through the inclusion of these creatures, Dillard prompts readers to contemplate the larger philosophical questions about the purpose and meaning of life, the role of suffering, and the mysterious forces that govern the universe.

4. Dillard alludes to and quotes from Einstein, Pascal, and the Koran. What do each of them mean? What is the purpose of each of these quotation and allusions?

ans: In the essay, Annie Dillard alludes to and quotes from Einstein, Pascal, and the Koran to invoke different perspectives and philosophical ideas that contribute to the exploration of the mysteries and complexities of the natural world.

Einstein: Dillard quotes Einstein’s statement that “God is subtle, but not malicious.” This quote suggests that the natural world, with all its wonders and intricacies, is not the result of a malevolent or arbitrary force. It implies that there is a deeper order and purpose behind the universe, even if it eludes human understanding.

Pascal: Dillard mentions Pascal’s concept of “Deus Absconditus,” which refers to the hiddenness of God. This allusion raises questions about the existence and nature of a divine creator.

The Koran: Dillard references the question posed in the Koran: “The heaven and the earth and all in between, thinkest thou I made them in jest?” This quotation invites reflection on the purpose and significance of the created universe. By referencing the Koran, Dillard introduces a religious perspective that prompts readers to consider the profoundness and intentionality behind the existence of the universe.

The purpose of these quotations and allusions is to incorporate diverse viewpoints and philosophical traditions into the essay’s exploration of the natural world. By drawing on the ideas of Einstein, Pascal, and the teachings of the Koran, Dillard broadens the scope of her reflections and invites readers to contemplate the mysteries of existence from different perspectives.

5. Why do you think cruelty is a mystery? Does the writer say God is cruel? Why or Why not?

ans: Dillard acknowledges that cruelty is a mystery because it is difficult to comprehend why there is suffering and pain in the world. The presence of cruelty raises questions about the nature of existence and the apparent lack of purpose or fairness in certain circumstances.

Dillard does not explicitly state that God is cruel in the essay. Instead, she explores different philosophical ideas and perspectives to grapple with the complexities of the natural world. She presents the contrasting views of Einstein and Pascal to contemplate the nature of God and the universe.

By quoting Einstein’s statement that “God is subtle, but not malicious,” Dillard suggests that while there may be suffering and cruelty in the world, it does not necessarily mean that God is deliberately inflicting harm.

6. Explain: “But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn`t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.”

ans: The phrase “But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames” is a metaphorical expression used by Dillard in the essay. It conveys a sense of intense energy, passion, and vitality that she perceives in the world around her.

The image of fire suggests a dynamic and vibrant existence. Fire is often associated with heat, light, and transformation. Dillard is implying that everything she observes is filled with a profound liveliness and potential. The world, in her perception, is ablaze with significance and wonder.

The phrase “that which isn’t flint is tinder” suggests that anything that is not already ignited or bursting with energy is ready to be ignited. It implies that even seemingly ordinary or mundane aspects of life possess the potential to ignite into something extraordinary.

The idea that the “whole world sparks and flames” reinforces the notion that every facet of existence, from the grandest phenomena to the most minute details, is infused with a remarkable vitality and beauty. It emphasizes the awe-inspiring nature of the world and encourages the reader to pay closer attention to the richness and intricacy of their surroundings.

7. What is the climax of the essay?

ans: The climax of the essay is the moment when Dillard witnesses the giant water bug sucking the life out of the frog. This event serves as a pivotal moment in the essay where Dillard confronts the harsh realities of nature and the inherent cruelty that exists within it. The description of the frog’s gradual demise and the chilling details of the water bug’s predatory behavior create a sense of tension and emotional impact.


1. How does the mockingbird section fit in with what Dillard has shown up to that point?

ans: The mockingbird section in the essay serves as a contrasting and hopeful moment amidst the darker themes explored by Dillard. Up to that point, Dillard has depicted instances of cruelty, violence, and the harsh realities of the natural world. The mockingbird’s graceful descent from the roof gutter presents a moment of beauty and grace that stands in stark contrast to the previous scenes of suffering and brutality.

By including the mockingbird section, Dillard highlights the coexistence of both beauty and brutality in the world. It suggests that despite the inherent cruelty and mystery of existence, there are still moments of transcendent beauty and grace that can be found if one pays close attention.

2. Where does the author reveal her identity?

ans: The author, Annie Dillard, does not explicitly reveal her identity. She maintains a third-person narrative perspective throughout the essay, focusing on her observations and experiences without directly disclosing personal information about herself.


1. Has God created the universe in jest or in earnest? Give reason for your answer.

ans: In general, the question of whether God created the universe in jest or in earnest is a philosophical and theological one that has been debated by thinkers and scholars throughout history. Different perspectives and interpretations exist.

Those who argue that God created the universe in jest may emphasize the presence of suffering, cruelty, and seemingly random or chaotic aspects of existence. They might question why a benevolent and all-powerful God would allow such pain and injustice in the world.

On the other hand, those who argue that God created the universe in earnest may emphasize the beauty, complexity, and order found in nature and the universe. They might see purpose, design, and meaning in the intricate workings of the cosmos and view the presence of suffering as a result of human free will or as part of a larger plan that is beyond human comprehension.

Ultimately, whether one believes God created the universe in jest or in earnest depends on their individual worldview, religious or philosophical beliefs, and interpretation of the evidence and experiences they encounter. It is a deeply personal and complex question that has been contemplated by humans for centuries.

2. Dillard`s seeing does not end with literal observation. It extends outward into thought. What ideas does Dillard develop out of her seeing?

ans: Through her observations in the essay, Annie Dillard extends beyond the act of seeing and delves into profound contemplation. Her observations of nature prompt her to reflect on larger existential questions and explore deeper ideas. One idea that emerges is the coexistence of beauty and cruelty in the natural world. Dillard acknowledges the mystery and waste of pain, yet she also recognizes the presence of grace and beauty that seem to exist irrespective of human perception or intention.

She questions the purpose and meaning behind these contrasting elements and wonders about the nature of creation itself. Dillard’s seeing leads her to ponder the existence of a higher power, the role of randomness and design, and the vastness and complexity of the universe. Her exploration of these ideas serves to provoke thought, inspire awe, and encourage a deeper understanding of our place within the intricate tapestry of existence.

3. Is the final paragraph of the essay necessary? What does it contribute to the idea of the piece?

ans: The final paragraph of the essay, which states, “I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames,” is indeed necessary and contributes to the overall idea of the piece. It serves as a concluding statement that encapsulates the essence of Dillard’s reflections and observations throughout the essay.

Ultimately, the final paragraph serves as a powerful synthesis of the themes explored in the essay. It reinforces the notion that the world is a place of simultaneous wonder and mystery, where beauty and intensity coexist. It leaves the reader with a sense of awe and a call to embrace and appreciate the extraordinary nature of existence, urging us to participate fully in the grand spectacle that surrounds us.

4. “…. the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation.” Discuss.

ans: The statement “the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation” encapsulates a key idea presented by Dillard. It suggests that the universe is characterized by its inclination toward grandeur, excess, and abundance. Dillard argues that creation itself is an extravagant act, as evidenced by the intricate and awe-inspiring phenomena observed in nature.

Throughout the essay, Dillard recounts various encounters with nature, such as the frogs, the giant water bug, and the sharks. These encounters exemplify the extravagant gestures of the natural world. The frogs’ explosive jumps, the predatory behavior of the giant water bug, and the powerful presence of the sharks all demonstrate the inherent extravagance and vitality that permeate the fabric of existence.

Furthermore, the idea of extravagant gestures extends beyond the physical manifestations of nature. Dillard also explores the concept in relation to beauty, grace, and even human perception. She presents examples of remarkable acts, such as the mockingbird’s graceful descent and the captivating sight of sharks in a feeding frenzy. These instances demonstrate that beauty and grace exist independently of human observation and are performed regardless of our presence or awareness.

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