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The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

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What are three important ways that Kit Tyler changes from the beginning to the end of Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond? 

Kit adapts to her new environment, develops inner strength and endurance, and learns the importance of self-understanding to make the best decisions for her future.

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The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a young adult historical novel by Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994) awarded The Newbery Medal in 1959. The story opens in April of 1687 in Puritan New England. The protagonist , sixteen-year-old Katherine “Kit” Taylor, undergoes a great deal of change and maturity as she...

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The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a young adult historical novel by Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994) awarded The Newbery Medal in 1959. The story opens in April of 1687 in Puritan New England. The protagonist, sixteen-year-old Katherine “Kit” Taylor, undergoes a great deal of change and maturity as she transitions from her carefree and comfortable life in the English Caribbean colony of Barbados to her new life in a strict Puritan community where both the geographical and cultural climate are shockingly different.

Three important ways in which young Kit changes are as follows: she acquires important adaptation skills, she discovers inner strength and endurance, and she develops a deeper understanding of self that allows her to make the best possible decisions for her future.

Kit develops adaptation skills that enable her survival as a newcomer to Puritan New England, where even a normal and innocent action could be misconstrued as “witchcraft” and cost her her life. An orphan raised by her grandfather in the balmy English colony of Barbados, Kit was accustomed to the lifestyle of the privileged English upper-class and, as an Anglican Christian, did not have any of the Puritan restraints imposed on her. She was allowed to wear fashionable and fancy dresses, she enjoyed swimming in the warm ocean, and she was not burdened with any hard physical work. Even more importantly, her intellectual world was not limited or judged. But with the death of her grandfather, everything changes. Kit has to live with the only relatives she can find—her mother’s sister’s family in Puritan New England. With her transition to this new environment comes a great deal of adaptation to a culture of extreme restriction, superstition, and personal danger to anyone who does not understand its rules. Kit’s ability to adapt, in spite of many challenges, allows her to survive.

Kit’s circumstances hone her inner strength and endurance. Beginning with the long sea journey from Barbados to Wethersfield (Connecticut), Kit transitions from a life of comfort and luxury in mild weather to one of hard work, harsh winters, severe social judgment, and intellectual deprivation. Yet she learns to do the work that is required in her aunt and uncle’s household—from cleaning to sewing and spinning. She becomes competent at new tasks and skills. The New England winters are so cold that her tears turn to ice one evening in the bedroom she shares with her cousins, and she survives a freezing night in jail when wrongly accused of witchcraft. The hardships Kit endures transform her from a pampered teen to a strong and capable young woman.

Kit also changes as she develops a deeper understanding of herself and what is ultimately right for her. This happens gradually through what she learns in her relationships with just about everyone in her new life, both the positive and the negative aspects. She comes to an understanding of what she truly needs for happiness, in good part through her experience of what she discovers cannot make her happy. Through her courtship with William, she learns that the life of financial security he offers is not enough to ensure her happiness. She learns that she has much more in common with Nate, the captain’s son, whose bravery in rescuing Hannah, the persecuted Quaker, from a terrible death as a “witch” equals her own. With the inner change of a deeper self-understanding, Kit comes to recognize that she loves Nate and that a lifestyle as his wife would allow her to spend the dreaded and dark New England winters in the Caribbean, while also living out her life in the beauty of New England during the milder seasons.

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When the novel began, Kit was materialistic, carefree, and naive.  She was accustomed to a spacious home in an established town.  Kit wore fine clothes and shoes.  Part of the reason why she allowed William to court her was because he could provide a more comfortable life.  Kit was also carefree.  She jumped into the cold water to rescue Prudence's toy.  She did not think of the consequences of the cold water, the disapproving looks, or that someone might jump in after her.  She had lived a comfortable life in Barbados.  It was a shock for her to have to work day after day in Wethersfield.  At home, slaves had done all the work.  Kit was naive when she arrived in Wethersfield.  She did not realize that her aunt and uncle would live such a different life in Puritan Connecticut.  She did not know that her clothes would draw attention to herself.  She did not consider the dangers of befriending Hannah of or secretly teaching Prudence.  

By the end of the novel, Kit realized that she was willing to sell her clothes to gain passage on a ship.  She had gone all winter without even looking at them.  She broke off her courtship with William.  She chose her own freedom and happiness over a fine house.  Kit gave up her ideals of returning to a carefree life.  She knew that when she returned to Barbados, "she would go as a single woman who must work for her living" (The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Chapter 21).  Kit also became more aware of the world around her.  She had experienced the mob trying to hunt down Hannah.  She had been tried for witchcraft herself.  She knew how Puritan life was.

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