The Witch of Blackbird Pond

RE0307100900599

NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER – 1959

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

Age: 10+

Interests: history, American history, politics, religion, intolerance, adventure, romance, strong girls, orphans, witches, superstitionBantam Doubleday Dell Publishing: 1958

223 pages, 21 chapters

Also by this author: The Bronze Bow, The Sign of the Beaver, Calico Captive

Next: Caddie Woodlawn, Johnny Tremain

A free-spirited orphaned young woman travels from Jamaica to Connecticut to live with her straight-laced Puritan cousins. Kit Tyler is definitely a fish out of water. Everything she does seems to rub someone the wrong way, whether she’s helping a lonely child or befriending an outcast old woman who lives in the swamp. Soon tongues are wagging and she is charged with witchcraft. Facing a terrifying fate, Kit quickly learns who her true friends are, as her ambitious suitor conveniently disappears but her friend the young sailor Nat comes valiantly to her aid.

It is rather too easy to plunk a modern-thinking heroine into a more conservative era in order to criticize, but this novel doesn’t fall into that trap. Kit is the perfect headstrong teen to contrast with her Puritan relatives, but she is still a young woman of her time. Her independent nature is due to her childhood in Jamaica, where she had servants and was accustomed to doing whatever she pleased. In Connecticut she struggles to adjust to long hours of hard work and very little freedom of movement. Young readers will certainly identify with Kit’s resistance to the strict rules of her new home. At the same time however, this novel doesn’t deal all in black and white. The Puritans may be severe, but they are also fair, generous and kind in their own fashion. Their lives are ruled by duty and work because of their faith but also because times are hard. Kit grows to admire her relatives’ self-discipline, humility, and restraint, and she becomes determined to be more like her sedate cousin Mercy, as impossible as this may be.

The witchcraft plotline was not as grim as I’d feared; a mob burns down Hannah’s home, but with Kit’s help the old woman is able to escape. The wrath of the town turns then on Kit, though her accusers are quickly discredited and her incarceration is short-lived. There is also a little romance along the way, as Kit realizes her attraction to Nat is far stronger than her feelings for her richer and more upstanding beau William. This is a perfect beginner’s introduction to mob mentality and scapegoatism, as well as religious, social and political intolerance. All Puritans are not painted with the same brush – the actions of the townsfolk spring more from spite and jealousy than religious conviction. Kit’s uncle is unbendingly religious, humourless and strict, seemingly the villain of the piece when Kit first arrives, but in the face of the community’s superstition and violence he is a lone rational voice and staunchly defends his niece and the Quaker woman Hannah.

This is a lively and interesting view of Puritan life in New England in the late 17th century, with a winning heroine, adventure, romance, and a thought-provoking look at how intolerance and fear can lead a community to injustice and violence. It’s a heavy topic, but handled here with an entertaining, light touch and much humour.

(this title available at amazon.com)

 

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. lizandlifestyle
    Sep 05, 2014 @ 12:55:16

    I remember reading this book! It was so interesting!

    Reply

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