In 1692, several innocent people in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were accused of witchcraft. Some were convicted and some were executed. Citizens of Salem reacted with anger, shock, surprise, and fear. The accusations began with Tituba, a slave from Barbados, and soon involved Betty Parris, the daughter of Samuel Parris and his niece, Abigail Williams. Betty Parris and Abigail Williams exhibited strange behaviors such as delirium and seizures in public. Some people interpreted the behaviors as evidence of bewitchment. Some twentieth-century historians have speculated that this phenomenon was the result of fear and anxiety because of the political, religious, and economic situation of the time. In The Witch of Blackbird Pond Elizabeth George Speare fictionalizes unjust accusations of witchcraft that mirror the real events that occurred in Salem in 1692.
Elizabeth George Speare’s four novels represent to her young adult readers the benefits of friendship. These novels teach a lesson to her young readers about diversity and acceptance of differences. The types of relationships that develop in these novels are unlikely to occur at the time because of prejudices. The bond between Attean, an Indian boy and Matt, a white boy in Speare’s novel, The Sign of the Beaver, is unique because despite different upbringings the two boys have a special friendship. The Witch of Blackbird Pond illustrates Kit Tyler being accused of witchcraft because she befriends Hannah Tupper, who is wrongly accused of being a witch. Elizabeth George Speare encourages her young readers to look beyond differences and become interested in the lives of people who are unlike them.
Major Works Consulted:
Hoffer, Peter Charles. The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History. Lawrence: UP of Kansas, 1997.
Photo Credit: Kovacs, Deborah and James Preller. Meet the Authors and Illustrators. New York: Scholastic, 1991
Kallen, Stuart A. The Salem Witch Trials. San Diego: Lucent, 1999.
Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. New York: Bantam, 1986.
---. The Sign of the Beaver. New York: Bantam, 1983.