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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Questions and Answers: Key Details

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1. What happens at the husking bee?

2. How and why does John agree to marry Judith?

3. Why is Kit dismissed from teaching “dame school”?

4. John and Mercy never discuss their love. How does Kit learn of it?

5. Why did Matthew Wood banish Dr. Bulkeley from his home, and what made Wood change his mind?

1. The husking bee is a way to make some of the work of the community into shared fun. It is a custom that if one of the young people finds a red ear of corn, he or she can “claim a forfeit” (i.e., choose a prize). This is an excuse for single young men and women to kiss in public without getting in trouble.

2. John says that he wants to talk to Judith’s father about something, and Judith jumps to conclusions. She assumes he is asking for her hand in marriage and essentially throws herself on him and makes a public declaration. When Matthew joins in and gives his permission and congratulations, John is too embarrassed and too good-hearted to correct people. It seems like he would have let himself get railroaded into marrying the wrong woman. In fact, being captured by Indians is the only way John gets out of marrying Judith!

3. Kit is dismissed for engaging in “play-acting.” The Puritans saw drama as innately sinful and thought children needed to be disciplined into proper behavior.

4. John usually reads the Bible aloud when he visits the Wood family home, but one evening he reads the poetry of Anne Bradstreet, a colonial poet who writes eloquently of love. Kit happens to look at Mercy while John is reading, and her face is filled with love. Though neither member of the couple speak at that time, Kit is absolutely certain of Mercy’s love, and later, the night of the husking bee, John confirms that he loves Mercy equally and always has.

5. Wood banished the minister because of their political differences and because the minister had essentially preached to him about those political differences in his (Matthew’s) own home. This was both irritating and insulting, and it may have seemed a bit of a political threat to Matthew Wood.

He changes his mind when Mercy falls deeply ill. He in fact is ready to go get the learned minister when Bulkeley arrives on his own with a remedy that helps save Mercy’s life. Pride and politics cause Matthew to ban the minister; love for his daughter rescinds the ban.

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