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The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

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Discussion Topic

The significance of the red ear of corn in "The Witch of Blackbird Pond"

Summary:

The red ear of corn in The Witch of Blackbird Pond symbolizes a social tradition where finding it allows the finder to claim a kiss from someone of their choice. This tradition, highlighted during the husking bee, serves as a socially acceptable way for young people to interact and express romantic interest, as seen when William uses it to kiss Kit.

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What does red corn signify in husking bees in "The Witch of Blackbird Pond"?

In Chapter 13 in the book, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Judith is excited about attending the husking bee. Unfortunately, Kit thinks it just sounds like more work, husking corn. However, Judith explains that autumn is truly the best time of the year because of the husking bees. Judith explains to Kit that husking bees are a time for gathering, singing along with fiddle music, and enjoying cider. In that context, husking doesn't even seem like work.

More importantly, Judith and Mercy discuss the red ears of corn. Whoever finds a red ear of corn can claim another person for a kiss. When Judith tells Kit she will be sure that William gets a red ear of corn, Kit blushes. Sure enough, by the end of the chapter, Judith tosses a red ear of corn into William's hands, and "Kit sat helpless, her cheeks on one, and then the laughter and the cheering left her giddy as William stepped resolutely forward to claim his forfeit" (Chap 13, last para). William is able to obtain his kiss after all.

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What does red corn signify in husking bees in "The Witch of Blackbird Pond"?

If you got a red ear of corn, you could claim a "forfeit" (a prize) of a kiss from the person of your choice. It was a party game, and a socially regulated way of letting young people get together a little bit, but not in a way that would get out of hand.

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What does the red ear of corn symbolize in The Witch of Blackbird Pond?

The red ear of corn mentioned Chapter 13 signifies a colonial tradition. As described in Chapter 13, just like they had barn raisings and house raisings in which they turned difficult labor into a community event and celebration to help complete the work faster, the colonials also held cornhusking bees in which they made a festivity out of husking the year's corn harvest to have it ready in time to be stored for the winter. As Judith describes to Kit, the cornhusking bee was like a great big party full of music, "cakes and apples and cider." What's more, red ears of corn, which are a different breed of corn and rarer than yellow corn, were treated as a type of prize. Due to the red color, the colonials attributed romantic symbolism to the corn, much like we see the color red symbolizing love and romance today. Hence, the colonials used finding a red ear of corn as a courtship ritual, and those who found red corn were permitted to the publicly kiss the person of his/her choice, an activity that would normally be scorned by the Puritans ("Oh Shucks!," "Activities," p. 5.).

While one has to read between the lines a bit, the prize one wins by finding a red ear of corn is explained in the final passage of Chapter 13 in which Judith husks a red ear of corn. Since she has just become engaged to marry John Holbrook, she feels she has no need for a courtship ritual and throws the ear of corn to William who is still pursuing Kit to be his wife, as we see in the lines:

"I haven't any need for a thing like that! ... What am I offered for it?" Without waiting for an answer, she tossed it straight across the [husking] circle into William's hands. There were a few quick giggles, a hush of curiosity. Kit sat helpless, her cheeks on one, and then the laughter and the cheering left her giddy as William stepped resolutely forward to claim his forfeit.

Here, the word "forfeit" means fine, or fee. William was given/has won the red ear of corn; therefore, he is owed a fine or a prize, and the fine he takes is a kiss from Kit. Hence, we see that a red ear of corn was significant in colonial days as a courtship ritual.

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