The column Identity Books is a series of letters to books that have influenced the author greatly in her experience in life.
Kit Tyler is the protagonist of the book, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, written by Elizabeth George Speare. Forced to move after her grandfather’s death and the economic derailment of their plantations and luxurious home in the Caribbean islands, Kit travels to the Puritan New England community where her aunt and uncle live with their two daughters. She arrives without giving them notice and starts a new life, making friends with an elderly outsider dubbed as the Witch of Blackbird Pond.
You are one of the strongest, but also one of the most underrated female protagonists in my so-far 15-year expenditure with literature.
You offered me a slice of the early life in America, with all of the dust and misogyny mixed in.
I picture you hunkering beside Nat, the sarcastic and witty captain’s son, on the fields, gathering up long sweet blades of grass to thatch old Hannah Tupper’s roof in your coarse dress, a long-shot away from the fancy high-end gowns you wore back in Barbados.
I had never known about the terrors women faced in society until your story. You tore down my ignorance in the lives and deaths of numerous girls throughout history — sure, I have read “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle” and “Riding Freedom;” magnificent tales with the past sown in like fine, taut weaves.
But you and your trials pierced me differently. Recounting the old era’s prejudices, societal gender standards, social classes and witchcraft in the landscape of America (that is, the 1687 version), your freshness of ideas and thoughts drew me. This book first opened years ago in the innocent age of elementary school, was retained on the bookshelves in my mind filled with crinkled browned pages of melodies of letters, edges tainted with the golden-brown hues of the sun.
The inked letters are ingrained like droplets of dripping yellow in a pointillism painting of fresh marigolds.
Never more have I been so clear-eyed in AR holograms of a historical fiction novel’s story before in my mind’s eye. I can perfectly picture you getting off the Dolphin, spending hours on household chores along with Judith and Mercy and having heart-to-heart chats with Nat and Hannah.
Your interactions with Uncle Matthew were heartening as the tsundere man first thrust your pride into the harsh spotlight, but then fought for your freedom and innocence to the end during your witch trial.
Most of all, though, besides the homely setting of Aunt Rachel and Uncle Matthew’s abode in the Connecticut colony and illuminations of humor scattered throughout the novel, what shined was the friendships grounded in love and respect.
Take for instance the touching mentoring friendship you share with Hannah and Nat to Prudence, a lonely child starved of her education by her strict mother and hapless father. Her witch of a mother, ironically, is the one who sparked the movement of witch accusations against you.
Or the friendship you cherish with the studious, religious scholar whose future to set to attend Harvard named John Holbrook. He lacked a backbone at first, but the shimmering strength underneath his at first weak persona that your sharp intuition had detected from the interactions you had with him on the Dolphin shined through.
Love winds throughout your tales of fashion woes, literature and political discussions, and sexism in America
But the trend of racism does also. Or at least in the mentions of your past home in the warm tropical Caribbean islands where you lived draped in luxurious goods.
That is the one failing of the book. Kit, your closed mind on your former Black slaves and “employing” them on your plantations is atrocious.
Interestingly enough though is the contrast of Nat’s open-minded views. He and his father are proud to not support slavery, despite it being highly profitable, but instead, transport loads of horses in their decks below (not that that is taking animal rights into regard).
Aside from this shortcoming, Kit, you are a role model for girls on the cusp of womanhood. You are free like an animal, yet a respectable being (in Barbados). You have an impulsive nature and are contrary — but so is Nat.
In the end, you have grown from a prideful, privileged girl (but one who loves swimming and reading) to a knowledgeable woman who is more experienced in the trials of life and the love of a family and friends.
Keep experimenting and stubbornly being you.