The Witch of Blackbird Pond: Chapter 2
To an impatient Kit Tyler, the Dolphin’s achingly slow progress down the length of the Connecticut River to reach Wethersfield colony, was too much for her to bear! Nine days on the stagnant river without a breeze in sight. Nine days of listless waiting for the much anticipated (and unpredictable) final reckoning with her newly adopted family. To say that the Wood family “adopted” her is not entirely true: they don’t even know she’s coming…so it’s more of an imposition, a “forced adoption.” On impulse, Katherine Tyler sold all her fine things (including her faithful slave girl), and hopped on board the first ship bound for America. Orphaned, destitute, and faced with the prospect of marriage to a man old enough to be her grandfather, Kit had to come!
The nine long days on board the Dolphin did make for some interesting, if at times, controversial conversation with Nat Eaton. Nat is still fuming over the dunking…so they hate each other, then they like each other, then they hate each other. Love is very much like a game of tug-o’-war, isn’t it?
Just as they were about to reconcile and forge what appeared to be a very exhausting friendship, Kit Tyler unknowingly insults Nat’s precious ship. “How I envied you, to get into that water and away from this filthy ship even for a moment!” (22).
“Oh,” she laughed impatiently, “I know you’re forever scrubbing. But that stable smell! I’ll never get it out of my hair as long as I live!” (22).
“Maybe you think it would smell prettier with a hold full of human bodies, half of them rotting in their chains before anyone knew they were dead!” (23).
Clever. Clever. Elizabeth George Speare touches upon the slavery issue in children’s literature. Although this is the only reference to slavery in the book, it reminds you that Kit Tyler was indeed, a slave owner. Her opulent plantation lifestyle was paid for by slave labor; she sold her “Negro girl” to pay for her passage to America. When you think about her riches to rags situation, she’s the YA version of Scarlet O’Hara. Readers never held it against Scarlet O’Hara for being a slave owner (or for slapping Prissy), nor do we hold it against Kit Tyler for being a product of her culture.
While some YA authors might skip the slavery issue entirely, I applaud Elizabeth George Speare for injecting some realism into her historical fiction. If for some reason, she introduces Kit Tyler as a plantation belle who happens to be against slavery, well…that would be too politically correct and therefore, too far-fetched for 1687. Remember, sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler is far from being a philosopher abolitionist.
The Eaton family is against slavery. If Nat’s father had consented to ship just one load of slaves, the Eaton family wouldn’t be so in want of money. But as it stands, Nat has only one pair of pants and nothing but his honor to hold them up with.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was my first introduction to what it means to have honor. I know the concept of “honor” is at times cliché, but when you really think about what it means and how hard it is to obtain, you’ll learn to appreciate what a rare character trait it is. Nat Eaton and his family have honor. And honor, in this case, is such a simple thing: it’s deciding not to take the short-cut. One cargo of slaves equals a better life. It’s so easy, it’s socially acceptable, everyone is doing it. But the Eatons refuse because they wouldn’t be able to sleep at night; their sense of simple human decency is unbending…
Perhaps I’m reading too much into the story, but I believe that Nat’s statement “We Eatons, we’re almighty proud that our ship has a good honest stink of horses!” really changed my life in the sense that I read about nobility when I was eleven and have been trying to emulate it ever since.