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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Topic #1: The Varieties and Costs of Freedom

I. Thesis statement: In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare demonstrates that there are several distinct varieties of freedom, each of which has its own cost.

II. One can be emotionally free—but one pays the cost of social disapproval.

A. Kit demonstrates emotional freedom when she dives into the water without thinking. The cost is Goodwife Cruff’s disapproval, which eventually leads to witchcraft charges.

B. Hannah follows her heart when she leaves Massachusetts. The cost is living alone, suspected by the community of witchcraft.

C. Nat follows his heart when he “illuminates” William Ashby’s house, and he pays for it by being put in the stocks.

III. One can be politically free—but one pays with blood and boldness.

A. The theft of the colony’s charter comes at great risk.

B. The Wethersfield militia organizes to fight for the colony’s freedom, and some members are killed.

C. The citizens of Wethersfield organize against the royal governor knowing that elements of their colony (New Haven colony) have already lost their charter.

IV. One can be spiritually free—but the cost is isolation and emotional austerity.

A. The Puritans as a community left England, severing families (such as Kit’s mother and her aunt).

B. Matthew Wood’s attempts to keep his family safe from sinful vanity means denying his daughters beautiful clothes.

C. Hannah Tupper’s refusal to follow the Puritan religion leaves her living alone near Blackbird Pond.

D. Kit’s rescue of Hannah and her friendship with her leave Kit vulnerable to charges of witchcraft.

V. One can be intellectually free—but one always pays a human and emotional cost.

A. Kit’s embrace of plays as literature and alternative teaching methods lead to her losing her job, and to others suspecting her of sin.

B. John Holbrook’s political stance costs him considerable anxiety as he does not want to cross his teacher, but must find a way to do so.

C. Matthew Wood banishes Reverend Bulkeley from his home because of their intellectual differences, and he almost loses his daughter Mercy as a result.

D. William Ashby is a good counter-example. He is not intellectually free, and so loses Kit.

VI. Conclusion: The American Revolution can be traced in terms of these developing and contesting freedoms—and in people’s recognition that they must pay the costs. It is for this reason that the Declaration of Independence ends with the authors pledging to support the revolution by saying “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Topic #2: The Struggle for Identity

I. Thesis statement: A variety of internal and external forces tug at every character in The Witch of Blackbird Pond. How they resolve these tensions determines their eventual individual identities, and the collective process will determine the identity of the colony.

II. Matters of the Heart

A. Kit’s family and community support her marrying William Ashby, but she must follow her heart.

B. John Holbrook is torn between the impression he has given—that he is courting Judith—and where his heart truly leads.

C. Due to the expectation that she will stay silent, Mercy must risk losing her true love.

III. Matters of the Mind

A. The men of the community disagree about what the charter says and how it should be interpreted.

B. The community seeks learning so as to read the Bible, but it fears outside influences.

C. Public airing of views (democratic debates) can become deadly mobs.

IV. Matters of the Soul

A. Several communities want Hannah to convert to Puritanism or to leave.

B. When Kit is on trial, she is torn between admitting guilt, exposing Hannah, and doing what is right.

C. The boys at the worship service (and at church) want to run and play; the elders, however, guide and at times beat them into obedience.

D. The Puritans are torn by several forces: scripture that supports the king, the need to reform the church, the push to live godly lives, and their rights as English subjects.

V. Conclusion: Struggle is an essential part of the world of The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and tension is fundamental in defining the characters. They pull back and forth between past and present, creating the future in the process, just as their larger colonial world did, eventually producing new and wholly American identities in a new nation.

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