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Summary of Elizabeth George Speare's 'The Witch of Blackbird Pond'

Summary of Elizabeth George Speare's 'The Witch of Blackbird Pond'
The story 'The Witch of Blackbird Pond' by Elizabeth G. Speare is set in the late 17th century America. The story follows a 16 year-old girl trying to feel at home in a new place with her new found relatives and a new society.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Feb 8, 2018
Did You Know?
Elizabeth George Speare taught high school English in Massachusetts and often named her characters after famous people of the yesteryear.
'The Witch of Blackbird Pond', was published in the year 1958. It depicts a detailed, day-to-day life in late 17th century New England.
'The Witch of Blackbird Pond' is an amazing description of the humble lives and daily chores of people who had newly settled in the America. Their lifestyles revolved around chores like corn husking, wool carding, marriages, family, and good old-fashioned courtship, governed by church laws and fellowship. It also revolves around the major religious and political arguments of that era, with a light undertone of unjustly witch trials and the offing of the American Revolution.
Summary
After losing her grandfather, Katherine (Kit) Tyler has no other option but to leave her home in Barbados and shift to Wethersfield, Connecticut. She lives there with her maternal aunt, Rachel Wood and her family. She embarks this journey on a ship called The Dolphin. Along way, she makes friends and foes. She is occasionally flirted and mocked at by the captain's son Nathaniel (Nat) Eaton.

On a stop at the Saybrook, a little girl called Prudence accidentally drops her doll into the water and begs her mother to retrieve it. Looking at the child's plea, Kit plunges into the water to retrieve it. On her return, she finds that Goodwife Cruff (the child's mother) has begun to believe that Kit is a witch, because of her swimming skills. Quite contrary to her belief, the fact was Kit knew swimming because she had lived on an island. Despite a rough start, she manages to make a new friend, John Holbrook.

Kit meets and tells her aunt Rachel, uncle Matthew, about her newly orphaned status. Hearing this, her uncle allows her to stay.

Soon, Kit is introduced to her two cousin sisters, Judith and Mercy and to her chores. Her life at Wethersfield is quite contrasting to her life at Barbados. At Wethersfield, she is introduced to laboring chores as compared to her easy life surrounded by servants in Barbados. She is also required to attend all the church meeting services.

Meanwhile, she meets William Ashby, who begins courting her. However, she does not reciprocate the same feelings, as she finds him very judgmental.

Kit and Mercy begin teaching in the dame school (elementary school) for young children. Bored of the normal lessons, Kit decides to play a little enactment game with the children. Enraged that play was an excerpt from the Bible, Mr. Eleazer Kimberly (the school head), shuts down the school. Heartbroken, Kit takes off into the meadows. Here she meets an elderly woman called, Hanna Tupper. Kit learns that Hanna Tupper is banished from Massachusetts colony for being a Quaker, and she is believed to be a witch. Both develop a deep friendship, and even after being barred from meeting her new friend, Kit keeps visiting her secretly. During one of her visits she meets Nat. And without realizing both fall in love with each other. She later learns that he has been banished from Wethersfield for playing a jealous prank in William Ashby's home.

Despite her secret rendezvous with Nat and Hanna, she makes time to teach Prudence to read and write. Prudence is claimed to be an intellectually disabled child or halfwit child by her mother, Goodwife Cruff, and thus, isn't allowed to attend the dame school for young children.

A fever strikes the youth of the town. The enraged people of the town are looking for someone to blame, and decide that it is a curse cast by Hanna Tupper. They form a mob to burn down her house. Unfortunately for them, Kit saves Hanna in the nick of time and ships her off. With Hanna gone, the angry mob targets Kit, and they accuse her of taking part in witchcraft rituals along with Hanna. Goodwife and her husband Mr. Cruff, inform the mob that they have found her hornbook (paddle used to teach alphabets) along with their daughter Prudence's name repeatedly written on a piece of paper. Nat comes to her rescue with little Prudence by his side. Prudence then testifies for Kit, informing the mob that Kit was secretly teaching her to read and write, and that it was she who wrote her name herself. She further reads out a passage from the Bible and writes her name as proof, putting everything to rest.

The next day the Wood's announce the girls' engagement, Mercy to John Holbrook and Judith to William Ashby. Kit decides to return to Barbados and become a governess. Nat who had fled to save himself from punishment returns with his own ship called The Witch, named after Kit. He asks her to marry him, as a condition to allow her to board his ship. The two leave to take permission for their holy alliance.
Theme
Identity
Kit is used to having servants and being in the lap of luxury at Barbados, where she read Shakespeare for pleasure and wore fine frilly clothes. In her new home, however, her identity is shaken. As she is a part of the Wood's family, who are Puritan in a Connecticut Colony; she has to give up her previous clothing and lifestyle to adapt to the life in Wethersfield. Kit gets a first glimpse of what her life is going to be like when she meets Goodwife Cruff. She struggles to keep her independence and individuality, by secretly disobeying her uncle's orders.
Home and Family
The feeling of home and being uprooted has been played very well in this story. Beginning with the sharp contrast in the water temperature when Kit plunges in to retrieve Prudence's doll; and Goodwife Cruff's reaction to it. Then the contrast between the lifestyles at Barbados and Wethersfield. Kit feels like a misfit in her new Connecticut home, where her life is split in between chores, and two church services. She finds comfort and a feeling of home with a shunned outcast (Hanna), rather than her relatives. However, in the end, she decides to return to Barbados, only to find a new home and family with Nat.
New America
The settlers of Connecticut (Wood's family and others in the community) wish to retain their right to self govern. The colonists' struggle were like the harbingers to the American Revolution.

As you probably know, early Americans were people from diverse backgrounds, many of whom didn't get along so well. And so, they lived in a place filled with conflicting values and mixed beliefs.
Characters
Katherine Tyler
Katherine Tyler is the protagonist of this story. Better known as Kit, she is independent, free and strong-willed, and rebellious. In other words a teenager. She has been orphaned after her grandfather's death. She struggles to make a place for herself in her new home in Wethersfield, and eventually marries Nat Eatson.
Nathaniel Eaton
Better known as Nat, he is the son of Captain Eaton. He is a brave and mischievous fellow who eventually falls in love with Kit and marries her.
Rachel Wood
Kit's maternal aunt and timid wife of Matthew Wood. She was probably a beauty once, but had lost two sons and that had taken a toll on her.
Matthew Wood
Stern but caring husband and father to Rachel and their two daughters, he is an anti-royalist and an independent man.
Mercy Wood
A kind and patient girl, who had suffered from fever in her childhood which left her with a lame leg. At the end of the story she marries John Holbrook.
Judith Wood
Judith is pretty, flirty, but generally a nice person. Eventually marries William Ashby.
Goodwife Cruff
She is a stern and narrowminded local woman of Wethersfield, who accuses Kit of witchery. She belittles her daughter Prudence and is convinced that the later is a halfwit, thus forbids her from going to the dame school.
Goodman Adam Cruff
Husband to Goodwife Cruff, and father of Prudence. He has a meek personality and accompanies his wife in accusing Kit.
Prudence Cruff
Prudence is a mistreated and misunderstood child, whose mother is convinced that the former is a halfwit. She befriends Kit and learns to read and write like the other children.
Captain and Mistress Eaton
Captain and Mistress Eaton are Nat's parents. He is the captain of the ship called Dolphin, in which Kit traveled.
William Ashbuy
A rich boy who briefly courts Kit, but in the end marries Judith Wood.
John Holbrook
A student of Dr. Bulkeley who teaches him about religion, theology, and medicine. However, he doesn't quite think for himself. He later marries Mercy Wood.
Hanna Tupper
An elderly woman accused of witchery. She is a Quaker and an outcast. Her friendship with Kit comes in handy when the latter helps her flee for her life.
Every literature form is a literary footprint leaving behind a trail or evidence of not just the author but also the events that have taken place during a particular era. This book hints to topics such as individuality, offset of American revolution, and even to the beginning of witch hunts, which claimed many lives.