illustration of a woman in a black dress with long black hair swimming down through the water toward a smaller human figure

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

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Summary and Analysis: Chapter 1

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New Characters
Kit Tyler (Katherine): a sixteen-year-old orphan going to Wethersfield, Connecticut, to live with her mother’s sister.

Nat Eaton (Nathaniel): the son of the Dolphin’s captain.

Mrs. Eaton: Captain Eaton’s kind wife.

Captain Eaton: captain of the Dolphin.

John Holbrook: a theology student coming to Wethersfield to study with Reverend Bulkeley.

Goodwife Cruff: a new passenger bound for Wethersfield.

Goodman Cruff: the quiet and henpecked husband of Goodwife Cruff.

Prudence Cruff: a little girl who drops her doll in the water.

Summary
In April 1687, Kit Tyler arrives at Connecticut Colony, sailing into Saybrook Harbor aboard the Dolphin. As the ship arrives, Kit views her new home and is joined on deck by Nat Eaton, the son of the ship’s captain. Kit finds her first sight of the American colonies underwhelming, even depressing; it is all too dim and underdeveloped after her warm and colorful home in the West Indies. Kit and Nat talk until it is time for the first longboat to go to shore, when Kit begs a place aboard it so that she can have a chance to set foot on America for the first time and so that she can accompany Mrs. Eaton, who has been kind to her during the voyage. Kit has been on ship so long that she wobbles a bit once on land, but she enjoys watching the sailors load supplies.

Four new passengers accompany the supplies. One of them, a little girl, accidentally drops the wooden doll her grandfather had made for her into the water. When she is so upset about losing it, Kit dives in to get it. She is surprised by how cold the water is and more surprised still that Nat dives in to “save” her because it is so uncommon for women—or anyone—to know how to swim in the colonies.

Once back on board, Kit meets John Holbrook, one of the new passengers. He is also going to Wethersfield. John is going there to study theology with Reverend Bulkeley, with plans of becoming a minister himself. They start a friendly conversation but also clash a bit over politics before Nat interrupts them to summon Kit to dine with the Cruff family now that Mrs. Eaton has left the ship. Kit agrees, even though she doesn’t want to because Goodwife Cruff has such a sour disposition. Nat shares the news that Goodwife Cruff won’t enjoy it either, because she’s already told Captain Eaton that Kit must be a witch because she can swim.

Analysis
This first chapter introduces most of the major characters and themes of The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Katherine Tyler, known to almost everyone as Kit, sails from Barbados in the West Indies to the colony of Connecticut. Both are British colonies, but there the similarity ends. Barbados is a tropical island in the Caribbean, and it was settled by wealthy colonists who were favored by the crown and established large plantations worked by slaves. By contrast, whereas Connecticut was established about the same point in history (both colonies are about fifty years old when the novel opens), the colonists are Puritans and have come to the New World to practice their religion freely. As will be demonstrated throughout the novel, their Puritan religion shapes just about everything that happens socially and even politically in their world.

Kit brings with her the openness of someone raised with both love and wealth. She assumes that the world is an open and welcoming place, even after she’s lost her beloved grandfather who was raising her. The rest of the characters introduced in this chapter form a representative microcosm of the colonial world. John Holbrook is the kind face of Puritanism, drawn to it, and to deeper study, by a genuine calling to God. The Cruffs, by contrast, represent the harsh and judgmental side of Puritanism that led to many stereotypes about the religion. Nat Eaton represents the free-spirited explorers who made their way to and around the New World for the sheer joy of seeing what’s there, and his father typifies the somewhat sterner and more focused traders who capitalize on such explorations.

Thematically, the chapter introduces Kit as an outsider who will be forever stumbling over local prejudices. It shows her boldness and independence, and how many people in the book will be bound by their duties to help her. These personal characteristics are also part of a larger clash of cultures: Kit was raised in an atmosphere of free intellectual inquiry, yet one that assumed privilege over others in the form of slaveholding. The people she meets are much more rigid in their attitudes, as seen in the Cruffs’ muttering that any woman who can swim must be a witch.

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Summary and Analysis: Chapter 2