Summary and Analysis: Chapter 5
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 548
Reverend Gershom Bulkeley: the Puritan minister at Wethersfield.
Mistress Ashby: one of the Woods’ neighbors.
William Ashby: Mistress Ashby’s son, soon to become a suitor for Kit.
On Sunday, Kit accompanies the Woods to the Meeting House for religious services. Her uncle is upset, first by Kit’s infrequent church attendance in the past and second by the fact that she has no other clothing to wear: the flashy clothes she owns seem disrespectful for a church service. Kit makes the situation worse by asking how far away the town is—when they’re standing in the middle of it.
Once at the Meeting House, the Puritan services seem as austere as the building itself. Kit finds the service boring and the seats painful, and her only relief is watching young boys trap a fly … until a watching man raps them on the head with a pole. After the sermon, Kit is introduced to Reverend Bulkeley. He and two deacons greet Kit warmly, and Kit also gets a chance to wave to Prudence, but Goodwife Cruff and a group of women stand to the side, gossiping about Kit and glaring at her. Kit is diverted from this when John Holbrook comes to greet her. Judith joins them to praise Reverend Bulkeley. As he leaves, Rachel introduces Kit to Mistress Ashby and her son William, who is clearly struck by Kit’s beauty. Kit’s still thinking about this encounter when Judith draws her aside to ask if Kit has a romantic interest in John Holbrook. All of this social interaction and speculation comes to an end when Kit notices the little “Sabbath houses,” which are there for families who live too far from the Meeting House to go home between services. This is how Kit learns there are two services each Sabbath, not just one. This sparks a momentary rebellion, but Kit soon realizes she’ll have to attend the second service.
This chapter introduces Kit to the larger Puritan community and drives home how limited and unpleasant her place in it is. Kit’s comments about the town’s size can be taken that she’s used to seeing a larger world (metaphorically)—but they also underscore how badly she reads this one. The men policing children’s attention at the worship service embody the formal discipline the Puritan community uses to keep its members focused on the divine, just as the existence and use of the Sabbath houses show the extreme dedication these people have to their faith.
At the same time, another major subplot is made explicit, and it is once again one that is tied to other themes: romance. While Kit had only thought of John Holbrook as a nice person, Judith evaluates him quite explicitly in terms of a potential husband. Likewise, when Kit meets William Ashby, his reaction shows his extreme interest in her. The two incidents together show how love and sexual interest find ways to flourish even in a culture of extreme religious dedication. In fact, the young people find ways to meet at the worship services themselves. On one hand, this shows them turning the services to their own purposes; on the other, it keeps the church at the center of everyone’s lives.