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 4

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Matthew Wood goes off to work in the fields, and Rachel goes to visit Widow Brown, a local woman who is too poor and weak to care for herself. This leaves Kit alone with her cousins. Judith complains about the time her mother spends caring for the poor, while Mercy counters with a scriptural and emotional defense of the act before cutting off the argument to try to help make Kit feel at home. When Judith asks what is in each of the trunks, she is stunned to learn that they are all full of dresses of the sort that Kit is wearing, which she sees as very fancy. Kit in turn is surprised that her cousins do not have such clothes. Kit urges them to try on some of the dresses, and after an initial hesitation, they do, with Judith very much taking the lead. She puts on a blue dress and wonders out loud at how William would like her in it, then puts a pale blue shawl on Mercy. Rachel comes back in while they are wearing these fine clothes and reacts with a mix of pleasure and fear: she clearly likes the clothes, including the bonnet Kit urges her to try on but is concerned about how wearing such flashy clothing would appear. Her fears prove well grounded when Matthew bursts in, finds them all wearing new clothes, and makes them give the clothes back, calling the bonnet his wife is wearing “ridiculous.” At Rachel’s plea, he does let Mercy keep the shawl.

After this incident, Kit is put to work helping Mercy card wool, a task she finds both difficult and tedious. Though Kit enjoys talking to Mercy while they work and shares with her a story of a loveless marriage Kit escaped, all the work in the house seems equally tedious, from making soap to making corn pudding. Kit nearly ruins the pudding, resulting in a painful silence over dinner. It only gets worse as the night goes on. Kit’s Uncle Matthew reads from the Bible, but boringly, and then Kit overhears Rachel and the girls talking about her, with Judith leading the complaints against her. The evening comes to an appropriately dark end when Kit hears wolves howling in the distance.

In this chapter, the difference between the girls, and between the women of the Wood family and Matthew Wood, is made strikingly apparent. It is so intense as to be a culture clash in itself and is made even more evident by Kit’s acceptance of and joy in beautiful things. Rachel knew such luxuries in her youth, and Judith’s desire to look pretty is a mix of her interest in men (a factor of her age) and, apparently, something close to universal. Matthew Wood’s rejection of these clothes is part of a larger Puritan rejection of such luxuries and of earthly temptations in general. In this, he is very much expressing the Puritan “party line.” However, when Matthew softens and allows Mercy to keep the shawl, it shows both realism (his crippled daughter is often cold) and a kind heart.

The other part of this chapter is a further demonstration of how out of place Kit is in her new home. This theme had been introduced in chapter 1, when Kit was so disappointed by her first sight of the American mainland, and has continued in each chapter since. However, it is brought home most fiercely in three ways here. First, the rejection of Kit’s gifts seems a rejection of her. Second, Kit’s lack of skill at the many tasks that the Woods must complete daily to live underscores both how sheltered she had been and, again, how alien a place Wethersfield is. Third, the howling wolves at the end of the chapter highlight that Connecticut Colony is a raw and literally threatening place. In her reaction to these last two disappointments, Kit stands in for every privileged English colonist who ever found his or her background more of a hindrance than a help in the New World.

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Summary and Analysis: Chapter 3


Summary and Analysis: Chapter 5