Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chapter 8: New Clothes Solve Everything

Or at least they make the little things better. In this case, Kit gets a new homespun dress that she can actually work in, and Judith starts being almost friendly.

And while that's happening, Kit's first actual friend makes an appearance, though it's at a distance for now. We're given a bit of foreshadowing:
"How often she would come back she had no way of foreseeing, nor could she know that never, in the months to come, would the Meadows break the promise they held for her at this moment, a promise of peace and quietness and of comfort for a troubled heart."
Kit thinks the Meadows are pretty excellent, but Judith points out the practical things, like the fact that it floods on a regular basis, which is why it's the perfect home for the local outcast.
"Nobody but Hannah Tupper would live there by Blackbird Pond."
And Speare points out that everyone loves a good bit of hyperbole. (Spoiler alert: There are no actual witches in this book. But we still get stuck with the imagery.)
"that lonely figure in the ragged flapping shawl - it was easy enough to imagine any sort of mysterious brew in the pot!"
And so to work.
"Kit could never get over her amazement at her cousin. Judith, so proud and uppity, so vain of the curls that fell just so on her shoulder, so finicky about the snowy linen collar that was the only vanity allowed her, kneeling in the dirt doing work that a high-class slave in Barbados would rebel at. What a strange country this was!"
Once again, Kit's attitude toward slavery is totally unexamined. The closest thing we get to breaking it down here is the acknowledgement that she accepts the existence of different classes of slaves, just like we know she's cool with different classes of Englishmen.
"What was she doing here anyway, Sir Francis Tyler's granddaughter, squatting in an onion patch?"
Which is why she starts thinking about the appeal of William Ashby. There's still nothing to write home about in William himself, but Kit knows this is her chance to move back toward the caste she occupied before leaving Barbados.
"Did it seem likely that his mother, who sat so elegantly in meeting, had ever touched a chokeweed? There were no blisters under those soft gloves, Kit wagered. She knew by now that the humble folk who sat in the very back of the Meeting House were servants of the fine families of Wethersfield. William would own servants himself, beyond a doubt."
A) Another indication that Kit's vision of her future includes slave ownership. This is something we'll have to return to in the last chapter. B) Why does no one ever talk about William's father? His mother gets a couple appearances, but Mr. Ashby Senior is mentioned precisely once in the book.

Finally, this chapter ends with some humanizing of Matthew. When Judith is chatty at the beginning of the chapter, she mentions that he's entitled to a bigger plot of land, but doesn't have anyone to help cultivate it. At the end, Mercy provides some context: there were sons, but they didn't make it out of childhood.

So now we see that the Wood family had the potential to be at least a bit better off economically, but the usual way of accumulating wealth through kinship networks (i.e. putting your sons to work for you) is unavailable to them. Plus, now Matthew and Rachel are both, on some level, tragic figures.

Which, as far as Kit's concerned, doesn't make her uncle any less of a grouch, though.