Summary and Analysis: Chapter 3
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1002
A man in a leather coat: he gives Nat and Kit directions to Matthew Wood’s house.
Rachel Wood: Kit’s aunt, her mother’s sister.
Judith Wood: Kit’s cousin, a proud and pretty girl.
Mercy Wood: Kit’s cousin, a kind but crippled girl.
Matthew Wood: Kit’s uncle, an upstanding colonial citizen and good, austere Puritan.
Kit follows Captain Eaton through the muddy streets of Wethersfield. Nat walks beside her, carrying two trunks on his shoulders, and two more sailors follow carrying more of her luggage. They find their way to Matthew Wood’s house on High Street. When they knock, a woman answers. Though she is far more worn and tired looking than Kit expected, it is her Aunt Rachel, who at first mistakes Kit for Margaret, so closely does Kit resemble her mother. Once the mistaken identity is cleared up, she welcomes Kit, and Captain Eaton takes his leave. So does Nat, though he pauses long enough to warn Kit teasingly about the possibility that she might be taken for a witch.
Once Kit and Rachel are alone, Rachel calls her daughters and her husband, Matthew, so Kit can meet them. Matthew Wood is tall and lean, and he seems harsh to Kit. Judith is as beautiful as Kit expected her aunt to be, while Mercy, though she has striking gray eyes, is a cripple who makes her way through the world on crutches. It turns out that the Woods are about to eat a late breakfast, and Kit joins them. Kit is surprised by the coarse and limited breakfast (cornbread and water). While Kit is wondering about this and about how austere Matthew Wood seems, he gets up to go back to work in the fields. On his way out, he notices Kit’s seven trunks and comments that it seems like a lot of luggage (and a long way to come) just for a visit. That’s when Kit finally tells the family that she has come to live with them.
The family is stunned. Matthew asks why she did not write first. Kit says that she could not, because they might have said no, and she had nowhere else to go. Matthew says that they would not have said no, but that she should have written first to give them time to plan. Rachel joins in the conversation, and as they talk, Kit explains how her grandfather might have been rich once, but his overseer had stolen a lot of money and disappeared. This started a decline, and, once her grandfather died, Kit had to sell everything to pay all the debts, even her personal slave. Though Matthew is unimpressed by this last detail, he approves that all debts were paid and agrees that she was right to come to them, since they are her only family. However, while that is settled, the discussion does end on two potentially troubling points. First, Matthew asks about the political affiliation of Kit’s grandfather and seems to disapprove of his loyalty to the king. Second, Matthew’s concern over the seven trunks is also a concern about what the town will think of his family for hosting such a visitor.
This chapter also blends an advance of the plot with several thematic developments. Kit’s introduction to her family depends on the kindness of strangers, both casually (the unnamed man who gives her direction to the Woods’ house) and in a more substantial and ongoing fashion. This applies to the Woods, of course, who welcome her because she is family (even though they have never met her), but also to Captain Eaton, Nat, and the two sailors who carry her trunks to the house. Kit is literally carrying a lot of baggage, and that represents the emotional and financial burden she is to those around her. For all the appealing emotional openness Kit demonstrates in her interaction with others—an emotional tone that makes her seem the most modern character to contemporary readers—in this chapter Kit is shown as fairly calculating, even manipulative. She intentionally does not tell the Woods about her situation because she is afraid they would say no. Likewise, even though she is embarrassed by having the sailors carry her belongings, Kit did not make any other plans for getting her goods to her new home. The least she was in this situation is thoughtless; at the most, she was calculating.
The Woods and their home also embody several other elements of the colonial experience. Kit’s Aunt Rachel left an easier life in England for a tougher one with Matthew Wood in Connecticut Colony, and all for love. Matthew Wood is the quintessential Puritan settler. Emotionally austere (even his body is long and lean, with no padding, no excess), he is all focus and duty. Judith and Mercy are certainly striking characters in themselves, but they also show the possible variations among colonial women. Judith is concerned with what her father thinks and wants to be a good person, but she is very attentive to social nuance and her beauty cries out for a social setting where she can accent it as she would like. Mercy is, even in this first encounter, warm-hearted, but her physical limitations severely limit what she can do and, in a colonial setting, the size of her world.
One new theme is introduced, a political element that will be woven throughout the novel: Kit’s uncle is concerned with her loyalty to the king. Kit does not understand why this is important, and neither would the reader at this point, but what seems like a quirk of her uncle’s eventually becomes a major factor in the novel. All the interpersonal interaction among characters should be read against a shifting political backdrop. These are not just individuals trying to determine their own destinies; this is a battle for the fate, character, and literal soul of the colonies that will eventually become America.