Summary and Analysis: Chapter 16
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 633
It is time for Thanksgiving, but there will be no official Thanksgiving this year, because the government does not recognize the right of Connecticut to declare its own formal holidays. Judith is disappointed, but her father says that it may be for the best because there was trouble on All Hallows Eve. Some sailors put jack-o’-lanterns in the windows of William Ashby’s house. Kit finds this funny (and it seems like Judith does too), but Matthew Wood considers these pranks “the devil’s invention” and “blasphemy.” That Thursday is the day when public punishment happens, and Kit goes to the stocks, where she finds Nat and a red-haired sailor she knows from her time on the Dolphin, as well as a third figure she doesn’t recognize. A crowd is teasing those being punished, and some go so far as to throw mud or apples. Nat is calling insults in return, at least until Kit’s presence is noticed and the crowd’s fun breaks up. Nat tries to get her to leave and, when Kit tries to offer help, says that his punishment was worth it for the sight of William’s face.
Kit flees to Hannah’s for support (and to finally take her the package of cloth Nat sent), but Hannah is not that concerned about Nat being in the stocks. (She’d been there herself, after all.) She also is not concerned that Nat is “banished” from Wethersfield, trusting her young friend to know secret ways there via the water that the authorities do not know. This leads to a discussion of why Nat did this, which leads in turn to their first discussion of William’s courtship of Kit. Kit says she is not sure she loves William, but she wants to get out of her uncle’s house; Hannah councils Kit that without love, there will not be any escape. The two table their discussion as Prudence arrives for her lesson. The little girl is learning steadily and clearly loves Hannah, but Kit worries that something will happen to disrupt their lives. When Kit gets home that evening, she learns that something has indeed happened to disrupt her own life, but it is not what she expected. John Holbrook has enlisted in the militia as a doctor, leaving Judith very unhappy.
This chapter illustrates how the personal, the political, and the religious intersected in Puritan New England. Nat Eaton’s friends came along to put the jack-o’-lanterns in William Ashby’s house as a prank. For Nat it was a prank—but he selected William because he is angry with him for planning to marry Kit. For Matthew Wood, such a prank is literally satanic, and, since William is on his side politically, it can be read as a symbolically satanic counterattack on their shared political position. Given Puritan logic, it means that the devil is now on the king’s side, which would solidify Matthew’s sense that he has taken a godly position (why else would the devil attack him?).
It also shows the nature of the major male characters in the novel quite strongly. Nat’s action is close to that of a trickster: he does not like what someone has done, so he disrupts it. However, he does take responsibility for his actions and tries to protect Kit from foul language. All he asks for is a fair fight. William had done the big dramatic gesture—as he has throughout the novel, including building the best house—but has no follow-through. John Holbrook must do what is right in the end and must find his own way; rather than fighting, he goes to care for the men. Matthew must stay at home, steadfast, protecting and supporting the community.