Elizabeth George Speare’s historical novel The Witch of Blackbird Pond is interwoven with various forms of conflict, both obvious and subtle. In fact, conflicts drive the plot, and through their gradual resolution, the reader witnesses the growth and maturation of the young protagonist, Kit Tyler.
The main conflicts take place on many levels. What kinds of conflict can you identify on the societal level and within Kit’s family? What are some of the interpersonal conflicts that take place, and how are they resolved? What are the conflicts that Kit faces within herself? These are some questions you may want to consider as you work on your assignment and recall specific examples of conflict.
The most significant conflict, introduced at the very beginning of the story, takes place between Kit and the unfamiliar norms of the Puritan society in which she finds herself. This happens because she steps into a world that is so unimaginably different from the only one she has ever known. For example, Kit is at first unaware that an ordinary activity such as swimming, which is perfectly normal on the island where she was brought up, can be seen as “proof” of witchcraft in Puritan New England. Kit experiences conflict in the form of culture shock driven by religious beliefs.
We also see conflict between Puritan beliefs and those of the Quakers. As a historical fact, Puritan intolerance of other religions (even other forms of Christianity) at times brought danger and even death to people outside of their own belief system. The ostracism and even branding of Quakers, like that of Hannah in the novel, was a reality of the times.
Within Kit’s family, we see conflict between Kit’s ideas, culture, and education, and the dictates of her Uncle Matthew, who is the strict Puritan head of the family. Kit and her cousin Judith have contrasting personalities and are sometimes at odds. Even Kit and Nat Eaton, the young man to whom she eventually becomes engaged, do not always see eye to eye.
Kit also experiences (and gradually resolves) conflict within herself. Her desire for independence from her family leads her to accept William Ashby’s courtship for a time, although she knows that they are not compatible. She finds a way to work out the conflict between her outlook and what is acceptable in Puritan society. The many tiers of conflict in the story help young Kit discover and hone her strengths and emerge as a young woman who is both true to herself and fully adapted to a new way of life.