Study Guide

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Themes

  • Identity

    Ah, the search for identity. It’s a common enough theme in young adult literature. Kit Tyler begins The Witch of Blackbird Pond very sure of who she is: the granddaughter of Sir Francis Tyler, an aristocrat from the island of Barbados. Kit is used to not doing much work at all; she is used to having her own slave to attend her, after all. She loves reading for pleasure (Shakespeare) and fine frilly dresses. Once Kit arrives at the home of the Wood family in the Puritan Connecticut Colony, though, she realizes that these things that once defined her (her social class, her books, her grandfather) are no longer a part of her life. Kit Tyler must decide who she is now. Who is she really?

    Questions About Identity

    1. How is Kit’s grandfather important to her sense of self?               
    2. How is Kit like the tropical flower Hannah describes?
    3. Why does Nat compare Kit to a tropical bird?                  
    4. Why are books important to Kit?
    5. How will marriage shape Kit’s identity?
    6. Where does Kit feel most comfortable with herself – and others?
    7. In the novel, what parts of Kit's personality change and what stays the same?

    Chew on This

    The place you come from defines you as a person.

    By the end of the novel, Kit would no longer fit in Barbados; she's become a New Englander.

  • The Home

    Is home a person? A place? A feeling? Over the course of The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Kit Tyler has to figure out that question for herself. When Kit arrives in Wethersfield, home is a far-away tropical island called Barbados. She doesn’t feel like she belongs in Connecticut, a place with two church services every Sunday and no fancy dresses in sight. Gradually, Kit comes to be a part of the Wood family and makes new friends, such as the Quaker Hannah Tupper. Inevitably she decides, though, that she must return to Barbados to truly feel at “home” – the place she lived with her grandfather. It’s not until Kit interprets her dream about Nat and the Dolphin that she realizes that home is not so much a place as the people with whom we surround ourselves.

    Questions About The Home

    1. What does the physical structure of the Wood house look like? How is this symbolic?
    2. Why doesn’t Kit fit into the Wood household at first?
    3. What is the relationship between Kit and the Great Meadow?
    4. Why does Kit feel at home when she’s with Hannah?
    5. What does Kit’s dream mean at the end of the novel?
    6. Where is Kit’s true home?                  

    Chew on This

    Kit can never call one place home; she wouldn't be happy unless she could call both Barbados and Connecticut "home." Marrying Nat allows her to live in both places.

    Home, for Kit, is wherever she's with people who love her.

  • Society and Class

    What does it mean to be a social outcast? And why is it not only cruel, but dangerous to cast someone out of society? Further, what happens when a society refuses to accept differences among its members? In its examination of the religious intolerance of 17th-century Puritans, The Witch of Blackbird Pond wants you to ask yourself these questions. Hannah Tupper’s house is burned to the ground because of fears about her religion. Kit Tyler is put on trial and nearly sentenced to death for her association with Hannah. Lives are nearly lost because the Puritan society fears those who are different. In these actions we see the violent consequences of intolerance.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Why does Goodwife Cruff dislike Kit?
    2. What is the social structure of Wethersfield? Who's at the top of the social ladder and who's at the bottom? Why? How is this different from the social structure Kit is used to?
    3. What kinds of people are outcasts in Wethersfield? Why?
    4. Why are Quakers not welcome in Puritan society?
    5. Why does Hannah have a brand on her forehead?
    6. Why is Nat put in the stocks? Who else has been in the stockades?
    7. Why do the townspeople burn Hannah’s house?

    Chew on This

    The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.

    Tolerance, understanding, and acceptance are necessary components of any peaceful society.

  • Religion

    Religion is an important aspect of the world of The Witch of Blackbird Pond: it organizes, and in some instances divides, the society of Wethersfield, Connecticut. There are three main factions featured in the novel: the Puritans, the Quakers, and the Church of England. The Puritans are stern and pious, such as the members of the Wood family. The Quakers, like Hannah and her late husband, are outcast from Puritan society, though they are peace loving. Members of the Church of England, such as Kit and her grandfather, are typically Royalists and loyal to the king. (For more see our section on “Characterization: Religion.”) In the book we come to see that each religious faction must learn to get along with the other; if not, the consequences will be dire.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Why doesn’t John Holbrook approve of Shakespeare?
    2. What are Sabbath Houses?
    3. Why is Kit punished for having the school children act out the tale of the Good Samaritan?
    4. Why does Hannah have a scar on her forehead?
    5. How is Mercy’s view of religion different from the rest of her family’s?
    6. How are the beliefs of Puritans, Quakers, and members of the Church of England different? How are their religious beliefs alike?
    7. Which characters in the novel practice religious tolerance? Which do not?

    Chew on This

    In the novel, the beliefs of all of the religions mentioned are more similar than they are different.

    A peaceful society requires acceptance of all faiths and religious practices.

  • Politics

    As almost everyone knows, politics can be a divisive issue – and are best not talked about in polite company. In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, this point is proven repeatedly. The two main political factions are the Royalists who are loyal to the crown in England (such as Gersholm Bulkeley and Kit’s grandfather) and the settlers in Connecticut who wish to retain their right to self govern (best exemplified by Uncle Matthew). The colonists’ struggle to keep their charter foreshadows the oncoming American Revolution.

    Questions About Politics

    1. Why does Kit consider herself loyal to the King of England? Does she change her political opinions later in the novel?  If so, why?
    2. What is Hannah’s political affiliation?
    3. Why does Uncle Matthew object to Governor Andros?
    4. Why do William Ashby's political beliefs change?
    5. What happens to the colony's charter?
    6. How does John Holbrook finally make up his mind about the politics?
    7. What is the relationship between women and politics in this novel?

    Chew on This

    Politics are a really just a bunch of hot button issues and should never be broached at the dinner table.

    Governor Andros represents a tyrannical government.

  • Appearance

    The Witch of Blackbird Pond is the tale of two cultures clashing. Both the aristocratic Kit and the pious Puritans will have to stop judging each other based on outward appearances and expectations. Kit, who is at first a bit of a snob, thinks the Connecticut landscape is dreary and sees the people as plain – she even mistakes her aunt for a servant. The Puritan community, meanwhile, regards Kit suspiciously, what with her seven trunks of outlandish dresses and her ability to swim. They eventually accuse her of being a witch based on these appearances. Kit and the Puritans must learn to reconcile their values – and how they see each other.

    Questions About Appearance

    1. Why will the whole town be talking about Kit’s seven trunks?
    2. How does Kit judge the people of Wethersfield when she first sees them?  Do her opinions change over time? 
    3. Why won’t Uncle Matthew allow his daughters to keep Kit’s dresses?
    4. Why does Kit feel peaceful in Hannah’s bare little house?
    5. Why does Kit give Judith the peacock-blue dress in the end of the novel?

    Chew on This

    You can’t judge a book by its cover.

    The clothes we wear reflect our values; appearance is part of our identity.

  • Visions of America

    The Witch of Blackbird Pond presents a distinct vision of colonial life in late 17th-century America. Through the novel’s vivid descriptions, we get a glimpse of the landscape, the people, their lives, their religion, and their politics. The novel’s rich depiction seems to suggest that colonial America can be a harsh – and rather complicated – place, filled with people with conflicting values and beliefs. Perhaps it is not only Kit who is struggling to find her identity in this novel, but also America itself.

    Questions About Visions of America

    1. Compare and contrast Barbados and Wethersfield. How are they different? How are they similar?
    2. What is carding wool? What is corn husking?
    3. What is the significance of the Connecticut charter?
    4. What are the stocks and what is their purpose?
    5. Why do colonists like Uncle Matthew think that England should butt out of their business? Why do the Royalists think that the colonies should be ruled by England?
    6. Would you have like to have lived in the American colonies in the 17th century?  Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Early America was made up of diverse people, many of whom didn’t get along so well.

    Early Americans were different in many ways, though all were looking for a new home.

  • Education

    In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, education can mean different things to different people. For Kit Tyler, it’s reading Shakespeare in her grandfather’s library. For John Holbrook, it’s burning the midnight oil over a dusty volume of Latin. For Prudence Cruff, it’s learning the alphabet under a willow tree with Kit by her side. Whatever form education takes, what we learn in this novel is how truly crucial education is. Kit takes Prudence under her wing in an effort to educate the young girl. It is Prudence’s newly-learned reading and writing skills that will, in the end, clear Kit’s name and save her life.

    Questions About Education

    1. Why is John Holbrook surprised that Kit can read?
    2. Why is Kit fired from the dame school? Do you think she's a good teacher?
    3. Should education be fun? Is there a benefit to learning things that aren't fun and exciting?
    4. What play do both Kit and Nat mutually enjoy? Why do they like this play?
    5. What is Prudence’s father’s attitude when he finds out his daughter can read?
    6. How were attitudes toward education in early America different than today?

    Chew on This

    In the novel, lack of education and intolerance are related.

    The books shows that in early America, education was as important to leading a happy, successful life as it is today.

  • Marriage

    For a girl in the 17th-century, marriage was the major aim of her life. Her role as a wife and mother would come to wholly define her as a person. Needless to say, the question of marriage was huge for young women in the era, as it is for the female characters of <em>The Witch of Blackbird Pond</em>. Kit must decide whether she can abide William Ashby for the life of luxury he offers, or if perhaps love is more important when starting a family. This question is echoed in the experiences of Judith and Mercy, who must also find proper partners.

    Questions About Marriage

    1. Why did Aunt Rachel leave her family to marry Matthew? Do you think she's happy about her decision?
    2. Why does Kit consider marrying William, even though she finds him boring? How would you feel about Kit if she decided to marry William?
    3. In what ways is Judith a better match for William than Kit is?  Why did William want to marry Kit to begin with?
    4. Why does John Holbrook agree to marry Judith?
    5. Why does Nat illuminate William Ashby’s windows with jack-o-lanterns?
    6. Why doesn’t William defend Kit at her trial?
    7. What would Kit's life have been like if she decided to work as a governess instead of marrying Nat?
    8. How was looking for a spouse different in early America than it is today? How was it similar?

    Chew on This

    The book argues that love is the most important concern when it comes to picking a husband or wife.

    Though marriage was inevitable for women in the seventeenth-century, women today have many other options.

  • Family

    The saying goes that “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” Is this true? In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Kit is orphaned when her grandfather dies. She goes to the Wood family in Connecticut. Feeling like she doesn’t fit in, she makes her own family: Hannah, Prudence, and eventually Nat. The Wood family will always be related to Kit by blood, but Kit has found a greater sense of belonging and home with Hannah, Prudence, and Nat.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why doesn’t Kit stay in Barbados after her grandfather dies?
    2. Who is the heart of the Wood family? Why?
    3. How would you describe Prudence’s family?
    4. When does Uncle Matthew finally accept Kit as part of the family? Does Kit feel a part of the Wood family?
    5. What is Kit seeking when she makes plans to return to Barbados? Why does she eventually decide not to go?

    Chew on This

    You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.

    Our family is made up of those we surround ourselves with, those we love.

  • Justice and Judgment

    Judge not lest ye be judged? These words would prove to be good advice for the characters of The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Everyone is passing judgment on everyone else. The judgment culminates when Kit is put on trial, accused of being a witch. The novel also wants readers to consider the concept of justice – in Kit’s situation, to sure, but also as it relates to the colonists whether it's just for them to be ruled by the distant King of England.

    Questions About Justice and Judgment

    1. What misjudgments does Kit make about the Wood family? About New Englanders?
    2. What misjudgments does the Wood family make about Kit?
    3. Why is Hannah thought to be a witch by the Puritans? Why is Kit thought to be a witch?
    4. Does Nat misjudge Kit? How?

    Chew on This

    Kit's biggest problem with William Ashby is that he's too judgmental.

    Though it is home to some good people, Wethersfield overall is not a just community.