Witch Child - Settlement Exercises

Settlement – Part One

Introduction

Having made their way through the wilderness, Mary and Martha arrive in Beulah and begin their new life in the settlement. Try these comprehension exercises to help you develop your understanding with what happens in this section of the novel. There are some suggested answers at the bottom of the page.

Comprehension Questions

Read through Entries 44 – 47 and answer the following questions:

  1. What has happened to Martha’s sisters in the settlement?
  2. Why does Martha go with Jonah and Tobias?
  3. Why is John Rivers disappointed?
  4. What do you learn about Jethro Vane from the opening of Entry 45?
  5. Suggest a reason why the Puritans built their Meeting House “on top of a hill” with “all roads” leading up to it “like the spokes of a wheel”.
  6. What happens if someone disobeys God’s Laws?
  7. The narrator compares the Reverend Johnson’s eyes of “musket barrels”. What does this simile suggest about the minister?
  8. Explain why Mary and Martha have to sit “at the back” of the Meeting House.
  9. Why does Jonah want their houses to have “moss between the layers” of wood?
  10. Why do people go to Jonah for medical treatment?
  11. Why does Mary begin to “visit the forest”?
  12. Where did Martha learn her “great store of lore”?
  13. In Entry 47, Mary confides in the reader about her “terrible thing”. What is her secret?

The Puritans

Understanding the context behind a story can help you understand the setting and the characters’ motivations. The following quotation is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5 Verses 13 to 13)

Salt is a really important part food because it provides flavour and is an effective preservative. The metaphor comparing people to “salt” suggests we will become useless if we lose our faith. Jesus then compares people to “a city that is set on a hill” because God can see everything and will punish those that are wicked.

One of the earliest governors of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, delivered a famous speech in 1630 that promised the Puritans will follow God’s Laws because they will be “a city upon a hill” with “the eyes of all people are upon us”.

In Entry 45, Reverend Johnson says they have “found a hill already levelled upon which we could build our city”. Re-read his sermon. What do you learn about the Puritan faith from this passage? Suggest why Mary should be concerned about the settlement’s strict and stern religion.

Foreshadowing

Writers need to give hints or set up what happens next in the story. This technique, which is called foreshadowing, can create intrigue or tension which result in a more satisfying plot.

For example, at the start of Entry 44. Mary comments that John Rivers is disappointed because “it bothers him” that his brothers “left” the settlement “without waiting” and “without leaving word”. The character’s reaction suggests something is wrong because he fully expected to see his family, but they seemed to have left quite suddenly. This detail about the Rivers family sets up the idea in the reader’s mind that Mary could find herself in the same trouble.

The following quotations are from Entries 44 – 47:

  1. “He owns a great many evil-tempered hogs who wander where they will.”
  2. “…the bounty heads of wolves are nailed to one side it.”
  3. “Ain’t I seen you in the forest?”
  4. “What they lack in size, they make up in savagery.”
  5. “Anyone disobeying them can find themselves in the stocks, or whipped, or having to find another place to live.”
  6. “I try to avoid them when they look in my direction.”
  7. “Know you not that the Indians are in league with him, worshipping him in their forest?”
  8. “I have begun to visit the forest to collect moss for the house building, and plants for Jonah.”
  9. “If anyone discovers it, I will be punished severely.”

First, explain what is happening in each quotation and then speculate why Celia Rees is deliberately providing these details to the reader.

If you have any really good ideas or guesses, please share them by posting a comment at the bottom of the page.

Analysis

Below each of the following images, which are taken from Entries 48 and 49, there is a badly written alternative. Both sentences mean the same. Compare the two and explain why Celia Rees’ version is much more effective. The first one is done for you:

  • How many times have I longed for a bath?
  • I longed to take a bath.

The narrator has been eager to wash herself but has not been able to because there is no “privacy” in her house. The interrogative “how many times have I longed for a bath?” conveys her desperate desire to jump into the lake and get fully cleaned because it has been on her mind for a long time.

(Notice how the simple statement “I longed to take a bath” does not suggest the same strength of feeling as the question used by the writer.)

Try these images:

  • Everything was quiet, the lake lay still as a mirror.
  • Everything was quiet, the lake was calm and shimmering.
  • I hurried to my hollow tree.
  • I ran to my hollow tree.
  • They cower on the edge, peering into the trees like frightened children.
  • They stand on the edge, scared to go into the trees.

Comprehension Questions – Suggested Answers

What has happened to Martha’s sisters in the settlement?

One of Martha’s sisters died and is in the Burying Ground and the other is now married to Ezekiel Francis who is one of the chief Selectmen of the village.

Why does Martha go with Jonah and Tobias?

If Martha stays with her sister, she will become her servant. However, if she can “keep house” for Jonah and Tobias, she will get “equal shares”.

Why is John Rivers disappointed?

John Rivers is disappointed because he had “hoped to find his brothers” in the settlement.

What do you learn about Jethro Vane from the opening of Entry 45?

The reader learns that Jethro Vane is an “important townsman” who is the “leader of the clan”. The narrator describes him as a “quarrelsome” and “greedy man” who is always “complaining” about the land. He also “owns a great many evil-tempered hogs”.

Suggest a reason why the Puritans built their Meeting House “on top of a hill” with “all roads” leading up to it “like the spokes of a wheel”

The Puritans built their Meeting House “on top of a hill” with “all roads” leading up to it “like the spokes of a wheel” because they wanted to show how their religion and faith are the central part of their community.

What happens if someone disobeys God’s Laws?

If someone disobeys God’s Laws, they will be punished in the “stocks”, “whipped” or banished from the settlement”.

The narrator compares the Reverend Johnson’s eyes of “musket barrels”. What does this simile suggest about the minister?

The narrator compares the Reverend Johnson’s eyes of “musket barrels”. This simile suggests the minister is dangerous and looking for someone to hurt.

Explain why Mary and Martha have to sit “at the back” of the Meeting House.

Mary and Martha have to sit “at the back” of the Meeting House because they are “newcomers” to the settlement and their position reflects their status in society.

Why does Jonah want their houses to have “moss between the layers” of wood?

Jonah wants their houses to have “moss between the layers” of wood because it makes them more insulated against the cold so they will be “snug in winter”.

Why do people go to Jonah for medical treatment?

People go to Jonah for medical treatment because there is no doctor in the settlement and he knows about herbs, plants and medicine.

Why does Mary begin to “visit the forest”?

Mary begins to “visit the forest” to “collect moss for house building” and “plants for Jonah”.

Where did Martha learn her “great store of lore”?

Martha learnt her “great store of lore” from “her mother” who had learnt it from “her mother”.

In Entry 47, Mary confides in the reader about her “terrible thing”. What is her secret?

Mary has “taken to wearing boy’s clothing” when she goes into the forest. She stole them from Joseph.

The Puritans

Suggested Answer

The Elders of this settlement will punish anyone who disobeys their laws. For example, the “penalty” for not attending church is “expulsion” from the “whole community”. They even slaughter wolves and stick their heads on spikes outside the Meeting House to show them “who’s master here”.

Since Mary does not share the Puritan’s strict and severe faith, she might be punished for her behaviour.”

Analysis – Suggested Answers” 

Everything was quiet, the lake lay still as a mirror.

The simile comparing the stillness and shine of the “lake” to a “mirror” is very effective because the reader can easily picture the flat and silver surface of a mirror and appreciate the calm beauty of the lake.

I hurried to my hollow tree.

By using the verb “hurried” to describe Mary’s urgent movement to her “hollow tree”, Rees also suggests the character is anxious she has been discovered at the lake because the word has connotations of pressure. The writer reinforces this fear through the alliteration in “hurried” and “hollow” which quickens the pace of the sentence.

They cower on the edge, peering into the trees like frightened children.

The verb “cower” describes the girls crouching in fear at the “edge” of the forest. They will only “peer into the trees” and not go any further. Celia Rees reduces the girls to “frightened children”. This simile is very effective because young people are usually scared of the dark and unknown places.

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Thanks for reading!