When we left off, sparks flew between Kit Tyler and Nat Eaton. As the Dolphin docked at Saybrook Harbor, the ever gallant Nat even caught Kit before a dizzy spell threatened to disrupt her equilibrium. His reassuring smile and warm blue eyes provided the stability Kit Tyler needed in what has now become a tempestuous existence. For Kit Tyler, America was behaving strangely underfoot. The plain wooden houses that dotted the bleak New England shore was “a disheartening contrast to the shimmering green and white that fringed the turquoise bay of her native Barbados” (2). Her beloved grandfather’s death meant the end of her opulent, plantation lifestyle. The prospect of being orphaned, penniless, and alone sent her packing on a month long voyage across the Atlantic to stay with her aunt and uncle in the Connecticut Colonies.
When she boarded the Dolphin, Katherine Tyler, sole granddaughter of Sir Francis Tyler, bought along seven trunks full of haute couture and a 20th century attitude. In New England circa 1687, her courtly Baroque Era gowns and free-thinking ways were not exactly well received in this strange land of somber, beetle-browed Puritans.
I, on the other hand, thought Kit Tyler was cool. She worked that bright red gown and ruffled a few feathers along the way. That’s sticking to the man! Heck, she’s the American teenager personified. Although The Witch of Blackbird Pond was published in 1958, it still remains a timeless classic because so many rebellious teenage girls can see a little bit of themselves in Kit Tyler. If this book took place today, Kit Tyler would infuriate her elders with a wardrobe of skinny jeans and rag-tag hoodies.
Her rococo dresses were nothing in comparison to her impulsive actions: diving into the freezing Atlantic to retrieve a lost doll for little Prudence Cruff. An act of kindness misconstrued as a breach in decorum in the eyes of all those on board the Dolphin. Never have these Puritans seen a decent young lady swim! It must be the Devil’s work! Even Nat Eaton, who chivalrously plunged in after Kit to save her from drowning, was taken aback by her skillful breaststroke.
Nat Eaton was shocked and then, for reasons that baffles even me, he got pissed. I suppose that for Nat, jumping into the ocean with the intention of saving a drowning girl who turned out to be the better swimmer, really hit his ego hard. And then she goes and makes this comment: “Bother the clothes. They’ll dry. Besides, I have plenty of others” (9).
“Then you might have a thought for somebody else!” snapped Nat, slapping the water out of his dripping breeches. “These are the only clothes I have” (9).
It isn’t easy for a common sailor to court an aristocratic lady. Is Kit Tyler “slumming” on the high seas? Well, Nat Eaton doesn’t need a sugar mama. He may have only one pair of pants but he intends to be the one wearing it! The class barrier rears its ugly head and fizzles what could have been a lovely nautical romance.
After the dunking, Nat Eaton’s warm, easy-going nature evaporates, leaving an indifferent, mocking, sardonic young man to make Kit Tyler’s time on the Dolphin more difficult. Despite the sting in his sarcastic remarks, he finds a way to warn her of the nasty rumors circulating around shipboard. Goodwife Cruff has been insisting that she’s a witch!
The news infuriated Kit. “That bitch!” Kit flared. Okay, Kit didn’t really say that, but it’s certainly what she was thinking. Prove me wrong Witch of Blackbird Pond experts, prove me wrong. Her response was actually: “How dare she!”
“Don’t you know about the water trial? ‘Tis a sure test. A true witch always floats. The innocent ones just sink like a stone” (13).
Is this foreshadowing I see? Take note all you visiting scholars reading this post to avoid reading the book. America is going to be a very strange, unforgiving place indeed.