Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chapter 5: Religion's first star turn

We've had some intimations that religion is going to be a point of conflict -- Kit and John Holbrook sort of danced around the edges of having an argument, but it's in this chapter, on a "crystal Sabbath morning," that the Puritan issue comes to the front.

Problem #1: Kit doesn't plan to go to church. She has basically grown up as a cultural Anglican, and doesn't get the Puritan mentality. Matthew doesn't give her any leeway on this. She joins the family at church. Which leads to...

Problem #2: Kit's clothes. Which, as we've already established, are far from plain.
"Beside the plain blue homespun and white linen which modestly clothed Aunt Rachel and Judith, Kit's flowered silk gave her the look of some vivid tropical bird lighted by mistake on some strange shore."
She wins this argument, but only because practicality gets in the way of Matthew's principles: there's simply nothing else for her to wear. Kit decides to hold her head high and wear something she knows she looks good in, and Rachel declares that the whole family is proud to be seen with her. Kit doesn't try to fool herself, though: "Judith was certainly not proud of her."

Problem #3: Kit figures that at least she'll get to see the town of Wethersfield now. Clearly they've been hiding the metropolis somewhere. But she steps in it again when she looks at the small wood frame buildings and asks how much farther they have to walk.
"'This is the town,' said Judith stiffly."
Kit is embarrassed, but that doesn't stop her from being underwhelmed.
"There was not a single stone building or shop in sight. The Meeting House stood in the center of the clearing, a square unpainted wooden structure, topped by a small turret."
Problem #3.5: And then we get to see just how sheltered her Barbados upbringing has been:
"Kit recoiled at the objects that stood between her and the Meeting House; a pillory, a whipping post and stocks."
I really doubt Bridgetown lacked its own set. The seventeenth-century penchant for corporal punishment wasn't just a Puritan thing. But Kit, no doubt, was tucked away in her grandfather's house, shielded from unpleasantness like that.

Problem #4: Services last a long time.
"By the time the long psalm was over Kit was glad to sit down, but presently she longed to stand again."
However, this gives Kit a chance to observe her new neighbors. (Of course, Speare never exactly explains how she does this, particularly when it comes to describing the people sitting in the rows behind her, without turning around and drawing attention to herself. Perhaps our third-person narrator is taking a step toward the omniscient, just for a bit.)
"Not all of them shared her uncle's opinions of seemly garb; some were as fashionably dressed as Kit herself. But the majority were soberly and poorly clad, and here and there, in the farthermost pews, Kit glimpsed the familiar black faces that must be slaves."
Again, slavery makes an appearance in the story, and Kit is not in the least troubled by it. And we're going to see more of it.

Even after she gets tired of people-watching, though, she's not giving up.
"Nevertheless, if this were a test of endurance, then she could see it through as well as these New Englanders."
Problem #5: After the service is over, Kit has to actually meet these people.
"A little distance away she glimpsed Goodwife Cruff, surrounded by a close huddle of whispering women, all darting venomous glances in Kit's direction."
She sees John Holbrook again, but is disappointed to see that he's gone totally teacher's pet. Then she meets William Ashby and his mother, and things start looking up.
"Mistress Ashby's dove-colored damask with its gilt-edged lace must have come straight from England."
Well, kind of.
"William was speechless."
Which is another descriptor we're going to see a lot of. However, he's rich, single, and available, so naturally he's the subject of romantic speculation.
"'Have you set your cap for him?' Judith asked bluntly."
"Kit colored to the edge of her bonnet. She would never get used to Judith's outspokenness."
Gee, where do you think this bit is headed?

(Post pic: Ridgefield's First Congregational Church. Trust me, it looked like the classic New England white box with steeple until they decided to renovate in the 1880s. Then they went "Italian rustic," or some such thing.)

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