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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Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 740

1. The Nature of Freedom
What does it mean to be free? While The Witch of Blackbird Pond focuses on the personal, it is impossible for anyone in a colonial setting, even a young woman like Kit, to pursue her personal desires without running into the question of what it means to be free. This is first brought home to her when she jumps in the water. Physical activity, specifically swimming, is something she had taken for granted, but in her new home swimming brings fear and social disapproval. A simple act, thoughtlessly taken, leads directly to Kit’s eventual trial for witchcraft. In other areas, Kit’s new home seems lacking in freedom as well; she has to go to two worship services in a day, whether she wants to do so or not, and she has to work like she never did in Barbados. It seems to Kit that to be free she will either have to escape, through marrying William, or accept isolation, as Hannah does. What is freedom, then, in this new colonial world? What does it mean to be free?

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2. The Cost of Freedom
Closely related to the question of what it means to be free are these questions: what does it cost to be free, and who pays that cost? Kit’s leisure in the West Indies was purchased in part through the labor of her slaves. In her uncle’s eyes, the “freedom” she knew from regular worship services would also have a cost, namely her eternal soul. Likewise, the freedom Kit has had from thinking about certain ideas (slavery, the rights of the king, what it means to be a subject) is purchased with passivity and ignorance. To learn about these topics is to experience new responsibilities in regards to them. One might say that every freedom in the novel comes with a price, whether it is Nat risking being whipped or Matthew Wood having to eat his pride. What, then, is Speare saying about the nature of freedom? A more complex version of that question might be to argue that Speare is saying that freedom always has a price—but if so, what does that say about the American claim that everyone is endowed with an inalienable right to liberty?

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3. Different Worlds, Different Roles
Though everyone in The Witch of Blackbird Pond technically lives in the same colony, functionally they inhabit very different worlds. Some of these worlds are political; Reverend Bulkeley’s steadfast loyalty to the king makes it seem like he lives in a very different world than Matthew Wood’s challenged and changing revolutionary world. Some of these worlds are defined by different gender roles. The women in this novel rarely discuss politics—Kit is the exception, but even she does not go into the fiery detail that her Uncle Matthew does, only touching on politics when men lead her there—and William seems not to expect any meeting of the minds with his future wife. In other ways, though, there is a metaphysical clash of worlds: Kit seems not to believe in witches (or, at the very least, she treats them skeptically), while others of great learning, such as Reverend Bulkeley, take their existence as a given. How do these different worlds affect the individual characters of the novel? Do members of the same family seem torn by their different allegiances? Are there any political implications for these clashing worlds, given that we know these colonies developed into a new nation less than a century after the novel closes?

4. Cycles
The Witch of Blackbird Pond follows Kit through one year of life in the Connecticut Colony. It starts as she is entering the colony and closes with her planning to leave the colony to marry Nat and sail away. However, many other cycles occur, patterns in which one person or event comes around to take the place or role of another. For example, when the novel begins, Hannah Tupper is the witch who gives the novel its titles, but in the final pages of the book, it is Kit who is the witch who gives Nat’s ship its name. What other cycles do you see in the novel, and what meaning do they have? (Hint: look at people to take similar roles with new people as they did with old, for people to pass on duties or responsibilities to others, or for characters to have similar emotional responses.)

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