Study Guide

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Society and Class

By Elizabeth George Speare

Society and Class

She pulled up the hood of her scarlet cloak and turned away. Embarrassment was a new sensation for Kit. No one on the island had ever presumed to stare like that at Sir Francis Tyler’s granddaughter. (1.31)

We learn that Kit was part of an aristocratic, upper-class family in Barbados. Her grandfather was nobility. In the Puritan society of New England, however, Kit will find that her family’s name won’t shield her from censure. Three women on the dock cast disapproving looks at her bedraggled appearance.

The others stared at her in suspicion. As though she had sprouted a tail and fins right before their eyes. What was the matter with these people? Not another word was uttered as the men pulled harder on their oars. A solid cloud of disapproval settled over the dripping girl, more chilling than the April breeze. Her high spirits plunged. She had made herself ridiculous. (1.53)

Kit generates suspicion when she plunges into the water to rescue Prudence’s doll. Kit’s swimming and rash behavior is out of the ordinary for an upstanding Puritan woman. As Goodwife Cruff says later, “no respectable woman could keep afloat in the water like that” (1.77). The groundwork for the later accusations of witchcraft is being laid.

Such frank talk about money embarrassed Kit. Her grandfather had seldom mentioned such a thing. She herself had rarely so much as held a coin in her hand, and for sixteen years she had never questioned the costly and beautiful things that surrounded her. In the last few months, to be sure, she had a terrifying glimpse of what it might mean to live without money, but it seemed shameful to speak of it. (2.19)

Kit was raised in an aristocratic family, where it is considered improper to speak to others about private financial concerns. The Puritan John Holbrook, however, speaks of such things casually.

“Seven trunks! The whole town will be talking about it before nightfall.” (3.77)

When Kit arrives at the Wood household, the family is shocked that she is carrying seven trunks with her. Uncle Matthew notes that the entire town will be buzzing about Kit’s luggage. We see a conflict of values in the two societies.

By the end of that first day the word useful had taken on an alarming meaning. Work in that household never ceased, and it called for skill and patience, qualities Kit did not seem to possess. (4.81)

The Wood family has a very different approach to chores than the aristocratic household Kit is used to. Instead of servants, each member of the family must pitch in and do their part in the daily running of the house. Kit has a difficult time adjusting to the labor required of her.

“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)

Hannah Tupper is a Quaker, as was her late husband Thomas. Because of their religion, they were cast out of Puritan society and branded on their foreheads. The couple was forced to settle in the Meadows as the town would give them land nowhere else.

“Quakers cause trouble wherever they go. They speak out against our faith. Of course, we don’t torment them here in Connecticut. In Boston I’ve heard they even hanged some Quakers. This Hannah Tupper and her husband was branded and driven out of Massachusetts. They were thankful enough just to be let alone here in Wethersfield.” (10.18)

As Aunt Rachel tells Kit, the Quakers were not tolerated by the Puritans. In some areas, they were even tortured, branded, and killed.

“People are afraid of things they don’t understand.” (11.58)

Kit says this to Prudence in order to explain why Hannah, as a Quaker, is isolated from the Puritan society of Wethersfield. What does Kit mean? How are her words true?

<em>That for stealing pumpkins from a field, and for kindling a fire in a dwelling they three shall be seated in the stocks from one hour before the Lecture till one hour after. That they shall pay a fine of forty shillings each, and they be forbidden hereafter, on certainty of thirty lashes at the whipping post, to enter the boundaries of the township of Wethersfield.</em> (16.31)

The town’s punishment for Nat’s vandalism is a day in the stocks; he is then to be banished from Wethersfield. Why is it important that Nat is publicly punished in this manner? What do these punishments mean?

“You’d do well to heed what we say, Matthew Wood. John Wetherell’s boy died today. That makes three dead, and it’s the witch’s doing!”

“Whose doing? What are you driving at, man?”

“The Quaker woman’s. Down by Blackbird Pond. She’s been a curse on this town for years with her witchcraft!” (17.27-29)

Because she is a Quaker, Hannah has been cast out from Puritan society. The townspeople fear her rather than try to understand her. Here she becomes the scapegoat for the fever in the town.

“Please,” Kit ventured. “Those other women you spoke of – Goody Harrison and the other? What happened to them?”

“Goody Harrison was banished from the colony. They hanged Goody Johnson.” (18.71-72)

A harsh fate awaits social outcasts in the Puritan society. Women who are accused of witchcraft are either killed or banished. Why are only women accused of witchcraft? What is it about Kit that made her a likely target for these kinds of accusations?

Another woman testified that one afternoon last September she had been sitting in the window, sewing a jacket for her husband, when she had looked up and seen Kit walking past her house, starring up at the window in a strange manner. Whereupon, try as she would, the sleeve would never set right in the jacket. A man swore he had seen Kit and Goody Tupper dance round a fire in the meadow one moonlit night, and that a great black man, taller than an Indian, had suddenly appeared from nowhere and joined in the dance. (19.31)

The witch trial includes a list of ridiculous accusations against Kit. Notice how the Puritans project their fears and anxieties onto the girl.

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