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 6

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The Woods host Reverend Bulkeley for dinner, a feast that the women of the house spend four days preparing. The minister clearly enjoys the meal. While he approves of all the women have done, he smiles each time he sees Judith and gives most of his attention to Kit. He is pleased to learn that Kit’s grandfather was knighted by King Charles and that he was (and Kit is) a loyal subject of King James. Kit does not understand what Bulkeley is implying, but her uncle steps in to insist that Kit’s allegiance to the king is not being disrupted by living with the Woods. The conversation turns into a political argument, with Bulkeley suggesting that if Matthew Wood stays so stubborn, it will lead to revolution and Wood in turn saying that he is willing to fight if that is what it takes to protect the rights that were established in the charter. The argument is so violent that Rachel starts to cry, but Mercy keeps it from getting worse by asking Reverend Bulkeley to read to them. The minister declines the invitation but suggests that his student John Holbrook might read instead. While this still touches on the political argument they had been having (because the minister suggests that John read verses about being loyal to a king), Matthew restrains himself and the moment passes. John’s reading is much more pleasant than Matthew’s had been, and for the first time Kit really appreciates the Old Testament verses.

The evening ends pleasantly enough, with Rachel inviting John to visit the house whenever he likes. After their visitors are gone, though, Matthew Wood explodes with anger, swearing he will never let the minister in his house again. The family’s plans for the future are complicated further when Rachel mentions that William Ashby had asked permission to court Kit. The Wood sisters are upset at first, because they thought William had been interested in Judith, and Kit is upset because she is not interested in marrying William. She offers to talk to Matthew, but Judith says it is okay and not to do so, because she has changed her mind. Judith is not going to marry William; she wants to marry John.

The church’s centrality in colonial lives is underscored by the dinner with Reverend Bulkeley in this chapter. The Woods lead a hard life, with much labor, but they are willing, even honored, to dedicate most of a week’s work to making a special dinner for the local minister. What’s more, it is a major social event for them to do so, and the highlight of Kit’s evening is listening to John Holbrook’s melodious reading of the Bible.

What’s most interesting here, though, is the way that the novel’s political themes continue to unfold. When the evening shifts from political argument to the “entertainment,” the political argument really just continues in a new form, as Reverend Bulkeley has John read verses that preach the idea that loyalty to the king is like loyalty to God. This demonstrates how politics and faith are interwoven here and, when combined with the discussion of the colony’s rights over dinner, shows how the Puritans are very much living in a historical turning point. They stand balanced between an almost medieval perspective on Christianity, one that assumes the existence of a monarchy, and a modern political perspective supporting individual rights.

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