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THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND BY E L I Z A B E T H G E O RG E S P E A R E THEMES
Society and Class
Judge and Judgment
Visions of America
IDENTITY Kit Tyler begins very sure of who she is: the granddaughter of Sir Francis Tyler, an aristocrat from the island of Barbados. Kit is used to not doing much work at all; she is used to having her own slave to attend her, after all. She loves reading for pleasure (Shakespeare) and fine frilly dresses. Once Kit arrives at the home of the Wood family in the Puritan
Connecticut Colony, though, she realizes that these things that once defined her (her social class, her books, her grandfather) are no longer a part of her life. Kit Tyler must decide who she is now. Who is she really?
WHAT DO YOU THINK? How is Kit’s grandfather important to her sense of self? How is Kit like the tropical flower Hannah describes? Why does Nat compare Kit to a tropical bird? Why are books important to Kit? How will marriage shape Kit’s identity?
Where does Kit feel most comfortable with herself – and others? In the novel, what parts of Kit's personality change and what stays the same?
HOME Is home a person? A place? A feeling? Over the course of The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Kit Tyler has to figure out that question for herself. When Kit arrives in Wethersfield, home is
a far-away tropical island called Barbados. She doesn’t feel like she belongs in Connecticut, a place with two church services every Sunday and no fancy dresses in sight. Gradually, Kit comes to be a part of the Wood family and makes new friends, such as the Quaker Hannah Tupper. Inevitably she decides, though, that she must return to Barbados to truly feel at “home” – the place she lived with her grandfather. It’s not until Kit
interprets her dream about Nat and the Dolphin that she realizes that home is not so much a place as the people with whom we surround ourselves.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? What does the physical structure of the Wood house look like? How is this symbolic? Why doesn’t Kit fit into the Wood household at first? What is the relationship between Kit and the Great Meadow? Why does Kit feel at home when she’s with Hannah? What does Kit’s dream mean at the end of the novel? Where is Kit’s true home?
SOCIETY AND CLASS What does it mean to be a social outcast? Why is it not only cruel, but dangerous to cast someone out of society? What happens when a society refuses to accept differences among its members. Hannah Tupper’s house is burned to the ground because of fears about her religion. Kit Tyler is put on trial and nearly sentenced to death for her
association with Hannah. Lives are nearly lost because the Puritan society fears those who are different. In these actions we see the violent consequences of intolerance.
LET’S DISCUSS Why does Goodwife Cruff dislike Kit? What is the social structure of Wethersfield? Who's at the top of the social ladder and who's at the bottom? Why? How is this different from the social structure Kit is used to? What kinds of people are outcasts in Wethersfield? Why? Why are Quakers not welcome in Puritan society? Why does Hannah have a brand on her forehead? Why is Nat put in the stocks? Who else has been in the stockades? Why do the townspeople burn Hannah’s house?
RELIGION Religion is an important aspect of the world of The Witch of Blackbird Pond: it organizes, and in some instances divides, the society of Wethersfield, Connecticut. There are the Puritans, the Quakers, and the Church of England. The Puritans are stern and pious, such as the members of the Wood family. The Quakers, like Hannah and her late
husband, are outcasts from Puritan society, though they are peace loving. Members of the Church of England, such as Kit and her grandfather, are typically Royalists and loyal to the king.
DO YOU KNOW? Why doesn’t John Holbrook approve of Shakespeare? What are Sabbath Houses? Why is Kit punished for having the school children act out the tale of the Good Samaritan? Why does Hannah have a scar on her forehead? How is Mercy’s view of religion different from the rest of her family’s? How are the beliefs of Puritans, Quakers, and members of the Church of England different? How are their religious beliefs alike? Which characters in the novel practice religious tolerance? Which do not?
POLITICS As almost everyone knows, politics can be a divisive issue – and are
best not talked about in polite company. The two main political factions are the Royalists who are loyal to the crown in England (such as Gersholm Bulkeley and Kit’s grandfather) and the settlers in Connecticut who wish to retain their right to self govern (best exemplified by Uncle Matthew). The colonists’ struggle to keep their charter, foreshadows the oncoming American Revolution.
LET’S DISCUSS Why does Kit consider herself loyal to the King of England? Does she change her political opinions later in the novel? If so, why? What is Hannah’s political affiliation? Why does Uncle Matthew object to Governor Andros? Why do William Ashby's political beliefs change?
What happens to the colony's charter? How does John Holbrook finally make up his mind about the politics? What is the relationship between women and politics in this novel?
APPEARANCE The Witch of Blackbird Pond is the tale of two cultures clashing. Both the aristocratic Kit and the pious Puritans will have to stop judging each other based on outward appearances and expectations. Kit, who is at first a bit of a snob, thinks the Connecticut landscape is dreary and sees the people as plain – she even mistakes her aunt for a servant. The Puritan community, meanwhile, regards Kit suspiciously, what with her seven trunks of outlandish dresses and her ability to swim. They
eventually accuse her of being a witch based on these appearances. Kit and the Puritans must learn to reconcile their values – and how they see each other.
CAN YOU ANSWER THESE? Why will the whole town be talking about Kit’s seven trunks?
How does Kit judge the people of Wethersfield when she first sees them? Do her opinions change over time? Why won’t Uncle Matthew allow his daughters to keep Kit’s dresses? Why does Kit feel peaceful in Hannah’s bare little house? Why does Kit give Judith the peacock-blue dress in the end of the novel?
VISIONS OF AMERICA The Witch of Blackbird Pond presents a distinct vision of colonial life in late
17th-century America. Through the novel’s vivid descriptions, we get a glimpse of the landscape, the people, their lives, their religion, and their politics. The novel’s rich depiction seems to suggest that colonial America can be a harsh – and rather complicated – place, filled with people with conflicting values and beliefs. Perhaps it is not only Kit who is struggling to find her identity in this novel, but also America itself.
LET’S ANSWER! Compare and contrast Barbados and Wethersfield. How are they different? How are they similar?
What is carding wool? What is corn husking? What is the significance of the Connecticut charter? What are the stocks and what is their purpose? Why do colonists like Uncle Matthew think that England should butt out of their
business? Why do the Royalists think that the colonies should be ruled by England? Would you have like to have lived in the American colonies in the 17th century? Why or why not?
EDUCATION In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, education can mean different things to different people. For Kit Tyler, it’s reading Shakespeare in her grandfather’s library. For John Holbrook, it’s burning the midnight oil over a dusty volume of Latin. For Prudence Cruff, it’s learning the alphabet under a willow tree with Kit by her side. Whatever form education takes, what we learn in this novel is how truly crucial education is. Kit takes Prudence under her wing in an effort to educate the young girl. It is
Prudence’s newly-learned reading and writing skills that will, in the end, clear Kit’s name and save her life.
CAN YOU ANSWER THESE? Why is John Holbrook surprised that Kit can read? Why is Kit fired from the dame school? Do you think she's a good teacher? Should education be fun? Is there a benefit to learning things that aren't fun and exciting? What play do both Kit and Nat mutually enjoy? Why do they like this play?
What is Prudence’s father’s attitude when he finds out his daughter can read? How were attitudes toward education in early America different than today?
MARRIAGE For a girl in the 17th-century, marriage was the major aim of her life. Her role as a wife and mother would come to wholly define her as a person. Needless to say, the question of marriage was huge for young women in the era, as it is for the female characters of The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Kit must decide whether she can abide William Ashby for the life of luxury
he offers, or if perhaps love is more important when starting a family. This question is echoed in the experiences of Judith and Mercy, who must also find proper partners.
Why did Aunt Rachel leave her family to marry Matthew? Do you think she's happy about her decision?
Why does Kit consider marrying William, even though she finds him boring? How would you feel about Kit
if she decided to marry William?
In what ways is Judith a better match for William than Kit is? Why did William want to marry Kit to begin
Why does John Holbrook agree to marry Judith?
Why does Nat illuminate William Ashby’s windows with jack-o-lanterns?
Why doesn’t William defend Kit at her trial?
What would Kit's life have been like if she decided to work as a governess instead of marrying Nat?
How was looking for a spouse different in early America than it is today? How was it similar?
FAMILY The saying goes that “You can choose your friends, but you can’t
choose your family.” Is this true? In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Kit is orphaned when her grandfather dies. She goes to the Wood family in Connecticut. Feeling like she doesn’t fit in, she makes her own family: Hannah, Prudence, and eventually Nat. The Wood family will always be related to Kit by blood, but Kit has found a greater sense of belonging and home with Hannah, Prudence, and Nat.
THOUGHTS? Why doesn’t Kit stay in Barbados after her grandfather dies?
Who is the heart of the Wood family? Why? How would you describe Prudence’s family? When does Uncle Matthew finally accept Kit as part of the family? Does Kit feel a part of the Wood family? What is Kit seeking when she makes plans to return to Barbados? Why does she eventually decide not to go?
JUDGE AND JUDGEMENT Judge not lest ye be judged? These words would prove to be good
advice for the characters of The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Everyone is passing judgment on everyone else. The judgment culminates when Kit is put on trial, accused of being a witch. The novel also wants readers to consider the concept of justice – in Kit’s situation, for sure, but also as it relates to the colonists whether it's just for them to be ruled by the distant King of England.
QUESTIONS What misjudgments does Kit make about the Wood family? About
New Englanders? What misjudgments does the Wood family make about Kit? Why is Hannah thought to be a witch by the Puritans? Why is Kit
thought to be a witch? Does Nat misjudge Kit? How?