Study Guide

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Religion

By Elizabeth George Speare


“You are not a Puritan then?”

“Puritan? You mean a Roundhead? One of those traitors who murdered King Charles?”

A spark of protest flashed across his mild gray eyes. He started to speak, then thought better of it, and asked gently, “You are going to stay here in Connecticut?” (1.67-69)

One of the major dividers between Kit and the people of Connecticut is religion. Kit and her family are loyal to England and to the Church of England. The Wood family, meanwhile, are Puritans, which means that they want to reform the Church of England. They are also critical of England and its role in the colonies.

“Why, Judith,” Mercy rebuked her gently. “What would you have her do? You know what the Scriptures tell us about caring for the poor and widows.” (4.3)

As her name suggests, Mercy is the heart and soul of the Wood household. She does not get caught up in petty prejudices or politics, but instead understands religion as kindness and giving. Here she suggests that the Scriptures ask followers to act as good neighbors. She is the moral center of the Wood family.

“Do people live in those tiny houses?” she inquired.

“Of course not. Those are Sabbath houses.” Then Judith emerged from her own musings long enough to explain. “Families that live too far to go home between services cook their meal there on Sunday, and in the winter they can warm themselves at a fire.” (5.42-43)

In this scene Kit and Judith pass the small structures known as Sabbath houses. Kit, much to her astonishment, realizes that she’ll be attending two very long religious services that Sunday. Kit mentions earlier in the chapter that she and her grandfather rarely attended church (5.4). Note the level of devotion implied by the little houses.

“What would you have me read, sir?”

“I would suggest Proverbs, 24th Chapter, 21st verse,” said the old minister, with a canny gleam in his eye which Kit understood as John began to read.

“My son, fear the lord and the King, and meddle not with them that are given to change, For their calamity shall rise suddenly, and who knoweth the ruin of them both?” (6.24-26)

Dr. Bulkeley makes use of scripture to defend his political position. His conflation of religion and politics suggests the close alliance between the two in this period.

“There was another boy, after Judith,” Mercy continued. “He lived only a week. Mother said it was the will of God, but sometimes I have wondered. He was very tiny, born early, but on the third day he had to be baptized. It was January and terribly cold. They said the bread froze on the plates at communion that Sunday. Father bundled him up and carried him to the Meeting House. He was so proud! Well, of course that was a long time ago, but after that Father changed. And it has been a struggle, trying to manage without a son to help.” (8.47)

As Mercy’s story suggests, the Puritan’s are a rigidly faithful people. Uncle Matthew, for example, baptized his premature son in the middle of winter. Mercy, who is speaking here, seems unsure about the rightness of this.

“Play-acting! And with the Bible!”

Reverend Woodbridge stared incredulously at Mercy. “What could have been thinking of, Mercy, to allow such a thing?” (9.30-9.31)

The strictness of the Puritan faith forbids the kind of flippant attitude that Kit’s playacting would seem to suggest. Do you find Kit’s behavior at the dame school disrespectful?

“But no one in Wethersfield has anything to do with Hannah Tupper.”

“Why on earth not?”

“She is a Quaker.”

“Why is that so dreadful?”

Rachel hesitated. “I can’t tell you exactly. The Quakers are queer stubborn people. They don’t believe in the Sacraments.”

“What difference does that make? She is as kind and good as – as you are, Aunt Rachel. I could swear to it.” (10.12-17)

Hannah’s Quakerism becomes an excuse to ostracize her from the community. Though Kit is able to see her goodness, Aunt Rachel insists that the woman should be avoided.

“Can I become a Quaker?” asked Kit, only half joking. “I’d rather pay a fine any day than go to Meeting.” (10.56)

In this exchange between Kit and Hannah, we learn that Hannah is fined by the town of Wethersfield for not attending their religious meetings.

His wife drew a hissing breath. “<em>That mouse was Hannah Tupper!</em> ‘Tis not the first time she’s changed herself into a creature.” (18.25)

As we learn here, superstitious beliefs hold sway in the small Puritan settlement. Believing that Hannah is a witch, they burn her house. What’s worse, Goodwife Cruff accuses Hannah of turning herself into a mouse.

“Katherine Tyler, though art here accused that not having the fear of God before thine eyes thou hast had familiarity with Satan the grand enemy of God and man, and that by his institution and help thou hast in a preternatural way afflicted and done harm to the bodies and estates of sundry of His Majesty’s subjects, in the third year of His Majesty’s reign, for which by the law of God and the low of the Colony thou deservest to die.” (19.15)

According to the charges brought against Kit, she has violated the law of the colony and the law of God. The two are, in the town of Wethersfield, the same. Why is this a problem?

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