Where It All Goes Down
1680s; Wethersfield, CT; Barbados; England
While most of the action of the novel takes place in the Wood household, there are three major geographical locations in the novel: Wethersfield, CT, Barbados, and England.
Wethersfield is a Puritan settlement in the early American Connecticut Colony. The landscape is rugged and the houses are plain, but sturdy. As Kit tells us, the life in the Connecticut Colony can be awfully dreary and quite a bit of work. The winters too, as Kit finds out, are harsh, though the spring weather is lovely.
In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Wethersfield is the home turf of the Puritans who are, like the land itself, more than a little harsh. Wethersfield, therefore, becomes the site of intense culture clash for our tropical heroine. The beliefs of the Puritans differ significantly from Kit’s worldview. Most obviously, the Puritans dress plainly and are devoutly religious; they also take their work and their education very seriously.
Wethersfield, Connecticut, we might add, is a hotly charged world politically as well. The Connecticut men and women, exemplified by Uncle Matthew, believe in their right to self-government and will stop at nothing to defend their rights. As Kit learns, “freedom” means something very different in Connecticut than what she is used to. Many of the colonists openly defy the king and are loyal instead to the land they love.
Psst. Want to learn more about Colonial America and the Puritans? Check out these Shmoop US History Learning Guides:
While none of the action takes place in Barbados, the 17th-century British colony is an important location in The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Barbados was the home of Kit and her aristocratic grandfather before her trip to Connecticut; the island very much influenced Kit’s upbringing. She experienced a great deal of freedom – especially from work – on her grandfather’s plantation. She was attended from her earliest childhood by a black slave.
Though both were British colonies, Barbados is a complete contrast to Connecticut. Scenically, the island features a lush tropical setting with blue skies and stretches of sandy beaches and ocean. For Kit, Barbados symbolizes home and family. She also associates Barbados with her own personal freedom – whether from the hard labor of the Wood family or the social scrutiny of the Wethersfield Puritans.
Don’t be completely fooled, though. The beautiful island also has a dark side. The society in Barbados is organized much differently than Connecticut. Rather than individual families working the land themselves, there are commercial plantations peopled with slaves and their prosperous slave owners. Trade and commerce – especially human traffic – is important to the economy of Barbados. Though Kit remembers Barbados fondly, the society can be cruel and harsh in its own way. Nat comments on this when he explains to Kit that the Dolphin doesn’t carry slaves: “we’re almighty proud that our ship has a good honest stink of horses!” (2.47).
Food for thought: How does Kit’s ideas about “freedom” contrast with the Puritans in Connecticut? Which place is more free: Barbados or Connecticut? Why?
Seventeenth-century England is the home of the royal monarch, King James II. None of the novel’s action is dramatized in England, though the country is often referenced as the far-off seat of power. Many of the Connecticut colonists object to being ruled at such a distance. England’s tyrannical rule of the American colonies will be questioned as the groundwork is laid for the American Revolution. Indeed, we see how detached England was from the daily life of the colonists in the novel when Governor Andros comes to visit.
England is most associated with Royalist characters in the novel such as Dr. Bulkeley and Governor Andros or those who are dead or distant, such as Kit’s parents and grandfather.