My, oh, my is Kit Tyler a clothes horse. When she arrives at the Wood family house in Wethersfield she has not one, not two, but seven trunks full of clothing. Shocking!
Everyone in the house comments on her extensive wardrobe – some like her dresses and some don’t. We know, then, that these dresses matter in some way. They possibly mean something, right? What do they mean, though? Why are these dresses significant?
Kit’s many fashionable dresses are a symbol of her difference from the Puritan Wood family. They are a physical remnant of her aristocratic upbringing, a reminder of her privileged life back on Barbados. Kit sees these dresses as part of her identity. Initially, we might add, the dresses are adored by Judith – and scorned by Uncle Matthew. Everyone has something to say about them. As the narrator remarks, “How amazing that a few clothes could cause such excitement” (4.15).
By the end of the novel Kit learns that her appearance isn’t everything. She changes her dress from fancy silk to durable calico. At one point she even decides to sell her dresses in order to return to Barbados; Kit learns that her identity is based on other, more important things.
As an orphan, Kit is on a journey to find a new home, and the Great Meadows represent that place for her. The Meadows are the one place that Kit feels like she belongs in Wethersfield:
As they came out from the shelter of the trees and the Great Meadows stretched before them, Kit caught her breath. She had not expected anything like this. From that first moment, in a way she could never explain, the Meadows claimed her and made her their own. As far as she could see they stretched on either side, a great level sea of green, broken here and there by a solitary graceful elm. Was it the fields of sugar cane they brought to mind, or the endless reach of the ocean to meet the sky? Or was it simply the sense of freedom and space and light that spoke to her of home? (8.7)
The wide open spaces remind Kit of Barbados, bringing her a sense of peace. It is also in the Meadows that Kit meets Hannah, teaches Prudence to read, and interacts with Nat. The Meadows is associated with these people, making it a much stronger symbol of home.
Bonus Round: Why do the Meadows “claim” Kit? Who else do they claim?
The Tropical Flower
As a teenager, Kit is searching for her true identity. How will she come to define herself in relation to the society in which she lives? One of the metaphors the novel offers us to think about Kit’s role in Connecticut Colony is that of a tropical flower transplanted to a cold climate. Hannah offers the image in a story she tells about a gift that Nat brought her:
"My friend brought the bulb to me, a little brown thing like an onion. I doubted it would grow here but it just seemed determined to keep on trying and look what has happened." (9.78)
The story seems to suggest that Kit can thrive in New England with just a little perseverance. Is Hannah right? Can Kit adjust to the Connecticut soil?
The novel offers us many metaphors for thinking about Kit’s identity. While Hannah tells us the story of the little flower that could, Nat compares Kit to a tropical bird he once wanted to bring home from Barbados. He tells the story as follows:
“You know,” he said looking carefully away at the river, “once when I was a kid we went ashore at Jamaica, and in the marketplace there was a man with some birds for sale. They were sort of yellow-green with bright scarlet patches. I was bent on taking one home to my grandmother in Saybrook. But father explained it wasn’t meant to live up here, that the birds here would scold and peck at it. Funny thing, that morning when we left you here in Wethersfield – all the way back to the ship all I could think of was that bird.” (12.29)
In Nat’s eyes, Kit is a poor little bullied bird. Unlike Hannah, Nat admits that he had doubts about Kit’s chances of survival in New England. Is Nat right about Kit in this metaphor? What other kinds of birds does he compare her to later in the story?
Hannah’s Branded Forehead
Like many Quakers in colonial America, Hannah Tupper and her husband Thomas were branded on their foreheads because of their faith. The brand is an outward symbol of the Tupper’s outcast status. (Kind of like Hester Prynne’s scarlet “A” in The Scarlet Letter.) It is also suggests the cruelty and prejudices peoples of different faiths faced in the colonies:
“But in the town there was not an inch of land to spare, not after they’d seen the brand on our foreheads.” (9.60)
The brand is a physical reminder of Hannah’s religious difference – one with very real consequences. The people of Wethersfield will not allow her to own land in town after they’ve seen the brand on her forehead.
William Ashby’s House
If The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a novel about the search from home, then William Ashby’s house is one of the possible homes that the novel offers to Kit. The house that William Ashby is ever building and discussing is, first and foremost, a symbol of the luxury and comfort he can offer his future wife. He builds on the best land and even orders diamond-paned windows.
Kit, however, is not interested in William’s house in the least, though Judith finds the topic of conversation riveting. We also know that Kit is not truly in love with William. His money offers her an escape from all of the work in the Wood home, but is a home without love truly an escape?
Why is William’s house a place Kit could never call home? What does home mean for Kit? What does it mean for William?
Scholarly tip: Dreams are almost always important in novels. Anytime a character has one – and the author takes the time to write it down – you should sit up and take note. According to Freud , a dream is thought to express a person’s subconscious wishes, desires, or fears. When thinking about what a character’s dream means, we might try thinking about the dream as an expression of the character’s unconscious.
As the novel draws to a close, our heroine Kit Tyler has a dream:
One night she woke from a vivid dream. She and Nat had stood side by side at the bow of the Dolphin, watching that familiar curving prow carving gently through calm turquoise water. They came soundlessly into a palm-studded harbor, fragrant with the scent of blossoms, and happiness was like sunshine, wrapping her round and pouring into her heart till it overflowed.
She woke in the freezing darkness. I want to go back, she admitted at last, weeping. I want to go home, where green things are growing, and I will never see snow again as long as I live! (20.60-61)
Kit initially interprets this dream as meaning that she should return to her home in Barbados. Eventually, though, she realizes that it doesn’t matter where she is in the dream – but who she is with. What dreams, fears, or desires is the dream expressing? Why can’t Kit realize these feelings in her waking life?