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 2

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New Characters
A redheaded sailor: a good-natured sailor aboard the Dolphin.

It takes nine days for the Dolphin to sail the forty-three miles from Saybrook to Wethersfield. Kit is very frustrated by what seems to be an extremely slow speed, but the sailors are at ease with the pace. The crawling pace is made worse by the fact that Goodwife Cruff is so unfriendly and that she browbeats her family into being unfriendly as well. Captain Eaton is also distant, so it seems like John Holbrook is the only friendly person on board. As they talk, Kit learns of John’s earlier desires to go to Harvard and of how his family’s relative poverty led him to shift to studying under Reverend Bulkeley. This in turn leads to Kit sharing some of her life’s story with John. He’s scandalized to learn how easy her childhood was but appreciates how much Kit loved her grandfather and how much it hurt when he died. He also is kind enough to warn Kit that her aunt in Wethersfield has been away from England and Kit’s mother for a long time, trying in his way to prepare Kit for a welcome other than the one she hopes for.

Kit thinks about this warning as she watches the crew “walking up the river”: ten men go on land and inch the ship forward by pulling on a rope. Nat, one of the men, goes swimming afterward and teases Kit to join him. When she says she wishes she could, to get rid of the smell of the filthy boat, he counters by arguing that the Dolphin is clean—and that it could smell a lot worse if it carried slaves, like the one she owned in Barbados. This is one of several culture clashes in the chapter; the next comes when Kit grabs one of John Holbrook’s books to see what he is reading and is surprised to find it very harsh and tiring theology. John in turn is surprised to learn she can read, and he is shocked to find out that Kit’s grandfather let her read plays, which he considers sinful.

When they finally arrive at Wethersfield, Kit is again depressed by the sight of her small and dirty new home. When she tries to say a friendly good-bye to Prudence, Goodwife Cruff rebukes her. John Holbrook says good-bye, but distantly; he’s focused on his own future studies. When Captain Eaton learns that no one is meeting Kit, and that no one even knew she was coming, he gets mad, telling Kit he would not have transported her if he had known. Even though Kit claims she is responsible for her choices and fate, Eaton sends his son, Nat, with Kit to carry her baggage to her aunt’s home.

This chapter develops several of the themes introduced in chapter 1 while simultaneously showing readers more about several key characters. This holds true throughout the novel; thematic concerns are developed through having characters embody or act upon them. In this chapter, John Holbrook continues to display a human face of Puritanism as he listens to Kit’s story and attempts to help her fit in to what will soon be her new home. At the same time, even John shows he shares the prejudices of his culture in how shocked he is that Kit was allowed to read plays, which the Puritans considered sinful. Goodwife Cruff’s rejection of Kit’s attempts to be nice to Prudence once again shows the Puritan antagonism to outside influences. It is an attempt to protect their own values, but in practice, here, it means cruelty to Prudence and rudeness to Kit. Kit’s own culture’s shortcomings are briefly underscored by Nat’s angry defense of his ship: he and his father must struggle financially because of their ethics. Not carrying slaves costs them money. This fits well with the main activity in the chapter: hauling the Dolphin up the river. Kit is not used to waiting around or having any of her desires depend so obviously on hard work. Though it also is simply historically accurate—it is what period sailors would have had to do to haul the ship—the scene of walking up the river is also an ongoing thematic counterpoint to the slave labor on which Kit’s earlier wealth and leisure rested.

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Summary and Analysis: Chapter 1


Summary and Analysis: Chapter 3