A Whole New World: Barbados Kit arrives in Puritan Connecticut.
The book’s opening pages set up the culture clash between Kit and the New England Puritans that structures the story. Kit Tyler is introduced as an aristocratic teen from the tropical island of Barbados. An orphan, she’s sailing to the Connecticut Colony to meet her Aunt Rachel. The Wood family, of course, is a family that is very different from what Kit is used to. The novel establishes a great contrast between Kit’s character (aristocratic and a little spoiled) and the Puritan society (hardworking and pious) into which she has been inserted. Note: Kit’s attempt to save Prudence’s doll in this section foreshadows the treatment with which she will later meet.
Fish Out of Water: Kit clashes with the Puritans...repeatedly.
In this section, we find a series of episodes in which Kit doesn’t quite fit in with the stern New England Puritans around her. The basic conflict of the novel is established, which is that Kit and the Puritans just can’t seem to get along. Kit’s clothing is elaborate and ornate, as opposed to the drab calico worn by other Puritan women. She also can’t seem to handle the heavy workload in the Wood household: carding wool and working in the onion patch. Also, Kit is expelled from teaching at the dame school for her questionable methods. (She asks the children to playact, after all.) The tension between Kit and the new world she is in begins to escalate. Where will this tension lead? What happens when two cultures clash?
Band of Outsiders: Kit finds out she is not alone.
In this section of the book, we find out that Kit is not alone in her feelings about Puritan society. She finds others who feel – and are treated – in the same way. First is Hannah Tupper, the Quaker widow who lives by Blackbird Pond. They become fast friends, of course, as they share a mutual love of blueberry cake and kittens. She also learns that Nat, that cute and snarky seaman, is friends with Hannah, though he gets banished from the town. Kit also meets Prudence again, the neglected daughter of Goodwife Cruff, and brings her into the fold by teaching her to read. She does so secretly in the Meadows and introduces her to Hannah as well.
We see, then, that Kit is not the only person that Puritan society doesn’t accept; there are many people who are cast out. This complicates things because it suggests that the intolerance of the Puritans is a widespread problem, with potentially dangerous consequences. Also note that Kit begins forming her own family in this section and reaching out to others who feel isolated.
Mob Mentality: The Puritans go after the so-called witches.
As the novel progresses, we see the true dangers of social exclusion and a mob mentality. A fever strikes the town, including the Wood household, and scapegoats are needed. The townspeople blame Hannah Tupper, the Quaker. They form a mob and promptly burn down Hannah Tupper’s house. Kit is able to save the woman just in time and, with Nat’s help, get her far away from Wethersfield. Still hungry for blood, the townspeople take aim at Kit. Her friendship with Hannah causes her to be accused of witchcraft and consorting with the devil. This section is the climax of the novel as the building tension between Kit, Hannah, and the Puritans finally turn violent. We see fear of outsiders turn into hysteria. The townspeople no longer wish only to exclude outsiders; they also wish to harm them.
The Trial: Kit is examined before the townspeople.
Will justice be done in this small Puritan community? How will the conflict between Kit and the Puritans be resolved? This section builds the suspense as it attempts to answer these questions. Kit is examined before a board of the town’s elders. The only person willing to defend the girl is Uncle Matthew (William Ashby doesn’t even show up). Much of the accusations are baseless, but Goodman and Goodwife Cruff bring a piece of substantial evidence against Kit. They present a copybook – found in the ashes of Hannah’s house – in which Kit wrote Prudence’s name and which Prudence wrote her own name. The copybook is utterly harmless, but Kit refuses to get the child in trouble and remains silent on the issue. Kit’s noble unwillingness to rat out Prudence ratchets up the suspense.
Sweet Justice: Prudence testifies and Kit is acquitted.
The novel’s conflict is finally resolved with the arrival of a surprise witness. At last, the truth! Nat arrives with Prudence in tow to demonstrate to the crowd that Kit was, in fact, teaching Prudence to read. Prudence also reads a passage from the Bible. We see that Kit and the Puritans do not have such different aims after all: to be good and decent people (even if their methods are different). Kit is vindicated and Goodwife Cruff gets her comeuppance. In this section we, as readers, feel vindicated as we see Kit’s virtue rewarded and Goodwife Cruff’s nastiness punished.
Happily Ever After: Kit and Nat are reunited.
As the novel concludes, Kit must decide what she wants out of life, where she belongs, and what place she will call home. Can she stay in New England? Should she return to Barbados? What will it take to give Kit a happy ending? With both of her cousins married off, Kit considers returning to Barbados to become a governess. She finally realizes, though, that she’s in love with Nat Eaton, the captain’s son. Nat returns to Wethersfield with a new ship named the Witch. He asks Kit to marry him. Kit decides that home really is where the heart is. By marrying Nat, she is able to stay close to the people that she loves: the Woods, Nat, Hannah, and Prudence.