The Witch of Blackbird Pond
by Elizabeth George Speare
Clothing (rather drab clothing, that is) makes the man in the Connecticut Colony of the Puritans. Kit’s appearance is nearly always contrasted with her cousins’. She wears fancy flowery dresses while theirs are plain:
Beside the plain blue homespun and white linen which modestly clothed Aunt Rachel and Judith, Kit’s flowered silk gave her the look of some vivid tropical bird lighted by mistake on a strange shore. (5.2)
Though the girls wear different dresses, by the end of the novel we realize that they are really not all that different as human beings. The peril of judging by appearances is one of the major themes of the book.
Puritan names often represent Christian virtues: Mercy, for example, or Prudence, or Thankful. This style of naming was a common practice among the 17th-century Puritans. The names used in The Witch of Blackbird Pond tend to be fairly straightforward as far as all of this goes. Mercy, for example, is the most merciful character. Likewise, Prudence is a shy and timid girl who is educated to be of sound mind and judgment.
The only character, we think, whose name is a little is ironic is Goodwife Cruff. A “good wife”? We think not. Her name perhaps suggests a critique of the kind of hypocrisy that often appeared in Puritan communities like Wethersfield.
In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, your religion dictates your place in society. Here’s a breakdown of who falls where:
The Wood family, John Holbrook, and nearly all of the people of Wethersfield, Connecticut are Puritans. In the 17th century, the Puritans were a group of religious dissenters who sought to reform the Church of England because they believed it corrupt. They were very devout and pious. Because of the staunchness of their beliefs, they worshipped devoutly and wore plain clothes.
Hannah Tupper and her late husband Thomas are the only Quakers in The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends, were another important religious Christian sect in early America. Quakers believed in practicing silence and channeling the quaking spirit. They were pacifists and did not take the Sacraments (that means that they didn’t take communion or participate in any other rites). They were strong believers in social justice and became very involved in the movement for abolition. As we learn in the novel, Quakers were often persecuted for their beliefs by Puritans.
Church of England
As Royalists (supporters of the king) and aristocrats, Kit Tyler and her late grandfather are the only members of the Church of England we see in the book. They themselves, as Kit tells us, were not particularly devout (super-strict about their religion). The Puritans sought to reform (change, update) the Church of England. In The Witch of Blackbird Pond the Church of England represents the powerful religious establishment back in England.