Summary and Analysis: Chapter 13
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 604
Later in autumn, the girls are talking, and Judith and Mercy are surprised to learn that Kit has never been to a husking bee. When Kit is dubious (it sounds like just more work to her), the girls describe it well enough to communicate some of their excitement to Kit, including mention of some mysterious “red ears” of corn. As the girls walk to gather the last of the corn in preparation for the husking bee, Judith shares with Kit her plan to marry John Holbrook—and her plan to “help” him ask her that evening. When Kit expresses doubt, Judith points Kit back toward William, telling her that he won’t wait forever.
Judith goes ahead as Kit visits Hannah briefly. On her way home, Kit sees John Holbrook, who is out gathering skunk cabbage to make an asthma cure. When he asks how Kit came to be walking alone, she tells him she has been visiting Hannah. John is startled and warns Kit that Hannah has been accused of practicing witchcraft, and says that even if it is just gossip, he would hate to see people use it against Kit. They get into a brief fight, and Kit accuses John of just parroting Reverend Bulkeley’s words. They talk on as they walk, with Kit trying to make John understand why she loves Hannah. The talk moves on to other forms of love, and John says that he plans to go to the Woods’ house to propose to Mercy that evening. Kit is so happy she hugs John.
However, when they enter the Woods’ home, Judith is still there getting ready for the bee. When John says that there is something he wants to talk to their father about, Judith jumps to conclusions. She carries her father along with her, and Matthew Wood gives John permission to marry Judith. John is caught so off guard that he cannot speak and allows himself to be carried along, essentially accidentally agreeing to marry Judith.
When William sees the happy couple at the husking bee, he approaches Kit and wants to talk to her uncle to ask permission to marry her. Kit begs him not to, pushing for more time because she is still so new there. William agrees to wait for her answer. However, at the bee itself, Judith gets a red ear of corn. She says she does not need it now and gives it to William. This allows him to “claim his forfeit,” which, by implication, is kissing Kit.
This chapter is essential for the novel’s plot and for understanding the Puritan character. While the Puritans thought of themselves as dedicated to their faith, what Elizabeth George Speare skillfully indicates throughout the novel is how much of their identity—including their concern with individual salvation—depends on and is bound up with community standards and expectations. In this case, John is so committed to doing “the right thing” by community standards that he lets himself be trapped into an agreement that is not right at all: he agrees to be married through a misunderstanding and stands mute rather than correcting it.
Kit’s lack of connection with the Puritan community could not be demonstrated more strikingly, if quietly, than it is in this chapter. William is not going to marry her by accident, but rather is trying to ask her directly. Kit puts him off, even though he is the best option for her in the town. The only extent to which Kit gives in to community expectations is by allowing William to kiss her at the husking bee.