Summary: Chapter Ten
Kit reports to Mercy that she pleaded her case with the schoolmaster Eleazer Kimberly and that he agreed to give her and Mercy’s dame school another chance. Kit tells Mercy and Rachel how Hannah’s encouragement gave her the confidence to speak to Eleazer. They react apprehensively and warn her not to mention any contact with Hannah to anyone else. Rachel recounts how Hannah and her husband were branded and driven out of Massachusetts for being Quakers, and while Rachel doesn’t believe Hannah is a witch, she tries unsuccessfully to extract a promise from Kit never to go there again.
Kit considers talking to William but decides he would be speechless with horror. She next wonders what John would say, ruminating about Judith’s infatuation with him and reflecting that theirs is a match of opposites. Later, Kit visits Hannah to tell her that she’s been reinstated as a teacher in the dame school. Suddenly, the captain’s son, Nat, appears with a gift of Barbados molasses, and Hannah reveals him as her mysterious friend. Nat asks Kit to keep an eye on Hannah.
Summary: Chapter Eleven
In the height of summer, while teaching her students, Kit catches Prudence in the furtive act of leaving flowers on the Woods’ doorstep. Kit speaks with Prudence and learns that she’s been secretly listening to the lessons and longing to learn, but she fears her mother Goodwife Cruff’s punishment. Prudence reveals that Goodwife never allowed her to go to school, believing Prudence too stupid. Kit begins meeting Prudence at Blackbird Pond for private lessons, giving her a silver hornbook from her own belongings to learn the alphabet. Kit introduces Prudence to Hannah, and they bond immediately. Each week, William visits the Wood household and reports on the progress of the house he is building. Judith, unlike Kit, immerses herself in the minute details but fails to engage John’s interest in any talk of a house. One evening, while John is reading to the group, Kit catches Mercy’s intense regard of John and realizes that Mercy is in love with him.
Analysis: Chapters Ten–Eleven
Aunt Rachel’s description of Quakers as strange, outspoken troublemakers continues the themes of prejudice and religious hypocrisy in these chapters. The persecution Hannah and other Quakers face is a clear example of Puritanical prejudice and hypocrisy. The flippancy with which Kit uses the word “bewitched” to describe how Hannah inspired her to be courageous shows that she still does not fully understand the dangerous ignorance of her neighbors. Kit’s refusal to treat Hannah as an outcast is ironically a much more Christian ideal than the fear and ostracization with which the Puritans treat her. Kit keeps her friendship with Hannah a secret from both John and William, intuiting that they maintain the same bigotry toward her as the rest of the town. Their characters are juxtaposed with the appearance of Nat Eaton at Hannah’s cottage. Nat’s long-established friendship with Hannah signifies that he holds the same open-minded values as Kit instead of the prejudiced opinions held by other Puritans.
This section returns to the central theme of friendship as a place of growth and exploration as Kit and Prudence bond through their secret lessons. The lessons provide each of them a place to safely be their true selves. Prudence’s desire to go to school symbolizes the importance of knowledge as a tool for growth and overcoming ignorance. With Kit as her mentor, Prudence learns not only her letters, but also how to set aside prejudice and fear as she befriends the rumored witch, Hannah Tupper. Kit’s worry over what would happen to Prudence if their secret lessons were discovered by Goodwife Cruff emphasizes that she has grown to be more conscious of others and more self-reflective. The fulfillment Kit feels through her closeness with Prudence and Hannah also contrasts sharply with her lack of enthusiasm for her relationship with William, showing that genuine connection is the crux of true friendship.
These chapters present an increasingly obvious tangled web of love interests between Kit, Nat, William, Judith, John, and Mercy. As Kit and William continue their courtship, Kit feels nothing but boredom while listening to William drone on about building materials. This tediousness contrasts with the surprise and intrigue she feels when witnessing Nat’s tenderness with Hannah in Chapter 10. Although Kit is far from admitting these feelings to herself, she feels internal conflict over whether to marry William when she does not love him. In contrast, Judith’s interest in every detail of William’s new home shows that these two characters are clearly a good match. Further complicating the love-web is the fact that Judith has set her sights on marrying the penniless, spiritual John Holbrook even though he has shown little interest in her. Ironically, it is revealed at the end of Chapter Eleven that Mercy is genuinely in love with John for the same characteristics Judith wishes to change about him.