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Literature / The Witch of Blackbird Pond

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The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a 1958 historical novel by Elisabeth George Speare, set in the historic town of Wethersfield, Connecticut.

Kit Tyler is thrown into the subdued, rough life of a Puritan. After her upbringing on a rich plantation on Barbados, obedience and religious piety are hard pills for her to swallow. She learns to bear her new life by befriending an outcast old widow, a neglected child, and the playful sailor whose ship ushered her to her new home. Kit slowly tries to fit in until accusations of witchcraft threaten to undo everything, and may cost her her life.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Aborted Declaration of Love: When John comes to ask for permission to marry Mercy, Judith mistakenly thinks he's come to ask for her hand. When he realizes what has happened, he keeps quiet for sake of embarrassing everyone involved.
  • Abusive Parents: Goodwife Cruff is this to Prudence, while Goodman Cruff is too much of a Henpecked Husband to stand up for their daughter until towards the end of the book.
  • As the Good Book Says...: As the book is set in Puritan New England, many characters quote and read from the Bible at length.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": When Goody Cruff tries to break her husband back down after he stands up to her, he delivers one to her and orders her home, speechless.
  • Broken Bird: Nat fears that this will become Kit's fate in the harsh social environment of Wethersfield. He even compares her to a bird he once wanted to buy on a tropical island, but his father explained to him that it would die if he brought it to New England.
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  • Cannot Spit It Out: The unspoken love between Mercy and John is in serious jeopardy due to their inability to spit it out. When John's confession of love is mistaken to be aimed at Judith, Kit is screaming inside for him to spit it out, but he still can't manage it.
  • Character Development: Kit starts as a Spoiled Brat and Rebellious Princess that doesn't abide by conventions. It's shown she can't cook due to her impatience. By the end of the book, she's making corncakes with ease and thanking Uncle Matthew for defending her from accusations.
  • City Mouse: Kit is a formerly rich city mouse from Barbados who comes to live with her aunt and uncle in the small Puritan colony. She has incredible difficulty adjusting to a homely life where a silk dress is considered frippery by her uncle when she was raised with slaves and finery as a plantation master's granddaughter.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Hannah is an isolated old woman, nearly blind with age, who practices an outcast religion, has been accused as a witch and heretic more than once, and often forgets her husband is no longer among the living.
  • Cool Old Lady: After Kit is dismissed from teaching and is depressed, Hannah (said titular "witch" of the book) cheers her up and helps her out. She even tells Kit at the climax of the movie to save herself so that she could avoid the mob turning their anger from Hannah to Kit.
  • Everything's Cuter With Kittens: Hannah's cure for sad children is blueberry cake and a kitten. It never fails.
  • Delicate and Sickly: When Mercy and Judith become terribly ill. Mercy starts crying when Kit orders her to go to bed, and none of the doctor's regular remedies are working. It's the reverend giving Mercy an onion poultice that saves her life.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Nat to Kit, when he's in the stocks.
    Kit: Isn't there anything I can do to help? Are you hungry?
    Nat: You can stop trying to be a lady of mercy.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Kit hears Judith and Rachal saying it would be easier to take in Kit if she were a boy. She lets it slip to Mercy a few weeks later that even if she's not a boy, she's determined to be useful. Mercy, after crying for a bit, explains that her two older brothers died, so it's nothing personal.
  • First Boy Wins: The first character we're introduced to other than Kit is Nat. He finally comes clean about his feelings in the final chapter.
  • Fish out of Water: Kit, the aforementioned City Mouse, transplanted from Barbados to Puritan New England.
  • Generation Xerox: Judith and Kit look exactly like their mothers Rachel and Margaret respectively. Kit's resemblance to her mother is so startling to her aunt that she nearly falls over on seeing her the first time.
  • Henpecked Husband: Goodman Adam Cruff is very much under the thumb of his wife, so far as he doesn't dare speak against her abuse of their daughter. He finally stands up to her and calls her out for abusing their daughter.
  • The Heretic: Hannah is described as a heretic and witch because she refuses to attend Sunday Meetings. Several of Kit's free-willed acts are called heretical.
  • Heroic Bystander:
    • Kit runs out in the middle of the night to rescue Hannah from an angry mob so that she won't get lynched.
    • Nat returns to the town to testify as Kit's defense and prove that she isn't a witch.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Mercy refuses to speak a word of her love of John Holbrook to anyone. Even if it means watching him marry someone else.
  • Lap Pillow: Upon his return from the militia, John Holbrook (who was believed dead) comes straight to the Wood household. Everyone is shocked to see him alive, but all he can bring himself to do is wordlessly stumble across the room to drop to his knees and put his head in Mercy's lap.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Judith has a crush on William who falls in love at first sight with Kit. Judith abandons her plans for William when she meets John but her sister Mercy is desperately and secretly in love with him. John loves Mercy as well, but becomes engaged to Judith in a horrible misunderstanding. William courts Kit for a while, but she realizes she could never be married to him and breaks it off. John goes missing and is presumed dead and Judith is comforted by William. John returns and confesses his love for Mercy. William and Judith have fallen in love as well and they plan to hold a double wedding. Kit runs off with a sailor. Whew!
  • Love Epiphany: In the final chapters, Kit realizes that her hopes and dreams aren't truly about going back to Barbados, they are about sailing by Nat's side again. She's shocked to realize she loves him, and spends the rest of the winter anxiously awaiting his return.
  • May–December Romance: Kit leaves Barbados because one of her grandfather's creditors is trying to push her into marriage. {{Squick:She's sixteen and he's fifty}}. Ew!
  • Meaningful Name: Given that Puritans named people after virtues, it's justified. Mercy is a Nice Girl, Prudence is smarter than she's given credit for, Goodwife Cruff is a pretty straight example of Names to Run Away from Really Fast...
  • Mistaken Declaration of Love: John comes to the Wood house to ask for Mercy's hand in marriage. When he says he wants to ask Mathew about something, Judith takes it as a proposal to her and jumps happily on it.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Kit runs out into the night to rescue Hannah from an angry mob. She manages to place Hannah on Nat's ship, and Nat promises to take care of her. The mob finds Kit's things in Hannah's cottage, and the Cruffs feel obliged to press charges against her because Goodwife Cruff is spiteful.
  • One Head Taller: Nat is described as having his shoulders level with the top of Kit's head.
  • Papa Wolf: Not just for his own daughters but also for Kit. When an angry mob tries to accuse her of being a witch, Matthew gives them "The Reason You Suck" Speech about trying to hurt his flesh and blood. This leads to them sheepishly apologizing for giving offense to him. He later argues with the constable about keeping her locked up at home until her later trial, and defends her vehemently]].
  • Pair the Spares: After Kit dumps William Ashby and John Holbrook confesses his love for Mercy, William and Judith happily marry as if neither of them had been engaged to anyone else. Kit reflects that Judith and William always belonged together and she and John Holbrook were nothing more than distractions.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Judith
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Matthew turns out to be one.
  • Settle for Sibling: After Kit dumps William, he turns his attention to her cousin Judith.
  • Shirtless Scene: Nat has one. Chopping wood no less.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: When Goodwife Cruff tries to force her husband into submission once he believes the protagonists in court, the Henpecked Husband finally tells her "Hold your tongue, woman!"
  • Think Happy Thoughts: Kit gets through the winter by clinging to the memory of a dream she had of standing on the prow of a boat bound for her home, Barbados.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Several of the townspeople who mob together to bring Hannah Tupper to "justice" sport torches.
  • Weddings for Everyone: The novel closes with a double wedding being planned for Mercy and Judith and Nat finally proposing to Kit.
  • When She Smiles: Kit is unaware of her dazzling smile, and confused by the romantic overtures it invites.
  • Widow Witch: Hannah.
  • Witch Hunt: When a serious illness sweeps the town, angry residents begin looking for someone to blame as children start dying. They immediately go to fetch Hannah Tupper, whom the town has always whispered about being a witch. When Kit helps her escape, their anger and accusations turn on her.