Summary: Chapter Eight
June means tending to crops, and Judith and Kit head to weed one of the farther fields. On the way, Kit discovers the Great Meadow, an expansive flood plain bordering the river whose breadth and beauty engage her imagination and lift her spirits. Hannah Tupper’s home sits at the edge, somehow surviving the yearly floods. Judith repeats the rumor that Widow Tupper is a witch.
Upon their return home, Mercy tells Kit that Reverend Bulkeley recommended Kit to help Mercy teach her summer dame school. Busy parents pay Mercy to teach their children to read so they can later attend school. Kit confesses that this paid opportunity would make her feel more useful, bitterly sharing with Mercy the comments Judith made about wishing Kit were a boy. Mercy explains that Matthew and Rachel lost two sons, the first to the illness that weakened Mercy and the second to failure to thrive. The second son was born prematurely in a frigid January, and Mercy speculates that Matthew’s adherence to their religion’s statutes and taking him into the bitter cold to have him baptized three days after birth may have cost him his life.
Summary: Chapter Nine
Mercy’s summer dame school gets underway with eleven children, Mercy teaching letters and phonics and Kit teaching reading from scripture and sacred poems and songs. Kit decides to have the children act out the parable of the Good Samaritan but doesn’t take into account the personality dynamics in assigning the roles. The three most aggressive boys became the thieves and robbers, who set upon the supercilious student whom they all dislike. Mercy and Kit cannot break up the resulting tussle before the sudden arrival of the schoolmaster Eleazer Kimberly and Reverend John Woodbridge, who witness the chaos.
The schoolmaster and Reverend Woodbridge consider play-acting the Bible to be sacrilegious, dismiss Kit as a teacher, and threaten to terminate Mercy’s dame school. Kit, distraught, flees to the Great Meadow, where she vents her remorse for what she has brought upon Mercy. Hannah Tupper finds Kit, listens to Kit’s story, and consoles her. Hannah then shares a pointed story of the exotic plant brought by a friend from the Cape of Good Hope, which inspires Kit to consider her own power to thrive. On her way home, Kit stops at the home of the schoolmaster Eleazer Kimberly.
Analysis: Chapters Eight–Nine
The change of season in this section symbolizes growth and change for Kit’s character. The emergence of color and warmth in her surroundings reminds her of home, symbolizing that Kit is beginning to find her footing in Wethersfield. However, the difficulty of growth is underscored by the juxtaposition of positive growth alongside Kit’s frustrations and social missteps. While Kit finds the menial work of pulling weeds unpleasant and beneath her station, she still stews over Judith calling her useless and wishing she were a boy. Just as Kit begins to thrive in her new role as a teacher, her impulsivity lands both herself and Mercy in trouble with the schoolmaster. However, these experiences strengthen Kit’s intrinsic compassion and determination. Kit regrets her bitterness and resolves to be more understanding when she learns of Rachel and Matthew’s dead sons. Though she initially wallows in self-pity over the incident at the schoolhouse, the consequences that Mercy may face distress her much more than the consequences for herself. This, along with a moving encounter with Hannah Tupper, ultimately prompt Kit to take responsibility in a demonstration of burgeoning maturity. The story Hannah shares about the surprising bloom of her exotic flower serves not only as a catalyst to action, but also as a metaphor for Kit’s potential to grow.
The introduction of the widow Hannah Tupper emphasizes the themes of prejudice and suspicion. Judith’s description of Hannah as an odd recluse who surrounds herself with cats and never attends religious services demonstrates the Puritans’ suspicion of anyone who behaves differently. Even Kit is initially susceptible to the prejudice of her neighbors as she speculates over whether Hannah is stirring a mysterious brew in her pot and wonders if the scar on her forehead is the devil’s mark. Ironically, while the Puritans have mostly treated Kit with frustration and suspicion, Hannah immediately accepts her: she listens to Kit’s troubles, welcomes her into her home for a meal, and offers comforting, useful advice. This presents friendship, kindness, and open-mindedness as a realistic type of magic, juxtaposing it against the unfounded suspicion of witchcraft that comes from ignorance and intolerance.