Review: “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” by Elizabeth Speare

For the love of books

To forsake everything familiar and begin a new existence in a completely different environment is one of the most difficult choices a person can make in life. For Kit Tyler, this decision didn’t come with options, only the burden of necessity.

Leaving behind her tropical home of Barbados for her relatives in the New World, Kit unwillingly starts a strenuous journey that includes disappointment and ostracism. Worst of all, her remaining relatives are living in a Puritan outpost and are completely unaware of Kit’s arrival or her situation. Educated and used to finery, Kit is also completely unprepared for her new family’s lifestyle and the harsh, rigorous routines of the Puritans unswervingly focused on the Bible’s relevance.

Shocked by her experiences in this household, Kit braves her stern Uncle Matthew and timid Aunt Rachel by drawing strength from her determination to find friends even in this Connecticut wilderness of unfriendliness and achieve decent survival despite all obstacles. It will take all of Kit’s courage and intelligence to uphold her spirit in this world of Puritan rigidity, especially when she is faced with a chance to blend into society or adhere to her own convictions alone. However, the most formidable task for Kit is not her laborious chores or obligations to her new “faith” but the choice between her wants and her needs. It is Kit’s character that simultaneously makes The Witch of Blackbird an extraordinary narrative about a young girl’s struggles and a very well-conceived historical novel.

Elizabeth Speare was undoubtedly a master at incorporating history into a realistic story that arouses genuine empathy from its readers. She pulls out the roots of the American Revolution in the midst of the plot and revitalizes American history. Suddenly, it is simple to visualize how primeval survival must have been for the early settlers, having to fight battles everyday whether political or physical. The Crucible comes to mind when exposed to the ridiculous accusations fiercely described in a Puritan courtroom, where God and the law combine in all the wrong ways. At first, Speare boldly criticizes the Puritans’ behavior and society through Kit’s perceptive eyes: their hypocrisy, arrogance, deceit, judgmental attitudes, double-sided devotion to religion, and extreme ethics in place of moderation.

For example, the Puritan mode of conduct is unbelievable. Kit has to immediately attend Sunday Meetings when she arrives and is forced to dress up due to circumstances. Everyone, including her relatives, scorns her grand appearance; however, while Kit is met with derision and scorn, several wealthy members of the Puritan community are also dressed well and accepted without criticism. This and other incidents of prejudice leave a trail of hurt and doubt on Kit’s mind, especially the feeling that she is mentally and physically imprisoned in this undesirable home. However, the author then turns her perspective around as Kit develops respect for her guardians and the Puritan way of life, the latter still clashing with her temperament and creating an unavoidable final battle.

From what Speare illustrates, the Puritans obviously had a strict code of absolute conformity that did not allow for any interference or ideas other than their own. Luckily, Kit has the opportunity to meet an assortment of people, from studious John Holbrook and kind Mercy to mischievous Nat Eaton and wise Hannah Tupper. All impact Kit’s life in various ways, and none have forgettable personalities. Two of Kit’s most powerful traits are her unconditional loyalty to her friends and her honesty. When Kit sees the lies in the witchcraft accusations against Hannah, she rises to defend her despite the consequences. Even though she won’t admit it, Kit doesn’t really care about what other people think about her; when she realizes how superficial the Puritans’ outward “practicality” toward life and religion is, she shuns it. She tries to fit into the community, but not at the cost of her principles and the people she loves.

In spite of all her troubles and insecurity, Kit manages to find love and happiness, even if it comes at a price. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is not just a tribute to the subjects of its content—it’s a warm, enveloping, and very romantic chronicle of events that slowly unfolds its comparisons between history and morality. At the end of a story that bends history inside out with the author’s charismatic writing style, it is clear that both Kit’s journey and her destination are meritorious in The Witch of Blackbird Pond, a masterpiece of historical fiction.

Original review: Part 1: The legacy of Elizabeth Speare; Part 2: The legacy of Elizabeth Speare; Part 3: The legacy of Elizabeth Speare, Examiner.com

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