What is Condé saying about male/female relations today by setting I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem in the seventeenth century?

By setting I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem in the seventeenth century, Condé is saying that women of the past, as well as women of the current day, can be strong, independent, and powerful. Tituba is able to overcome tremendous odds, despite living in a patriarchal society and having relationships with weak-willed and abusive men. Hers is a story that resonates with the current-day narrative of feminine strength and capability.

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Seventeenth-century Europe and America maintained societies that were governed by an oppressive set of patriarchal norms. In Condé’s story, we can see the abuses of patriarchy manifest in a number of different ways. In the first place, Tituba’s mother, Abena, is raped early on by an English sailor before being sold off to Davis Darnell’s sugar plantation in the Barbados. When Tituba is a young child, Davis tries to rape her mother again, who successfully fights him off. Unfortunately, she is hanged for defying her master’s authority. Thus, within the first third of the story, the reader shown a picture of a putatively male-dominated society in which innocent women can only choose between being raped or murdered.

Tituba’s relationship with John Indian, another slave, whom Tituba eventually marries, further emphasizes the patriarchal social order. John goes to great lengths to lecture Tituba, sharing biblical stories with her about Adam and Even and using them as a pretext to rationalize how women have historically led men astray. Even though Tituba wishes to have a more romantic relationship with John, he has a patronizing view of women in general and Tituba in particular and can never share her affection equally.

Tituba overcomes all of this, and throughout the story, she manages to hold on to her moral integrity. She survives the Darnell plantation as well as accusations of being a witch, even after John abandons her. She is a symbol of empowerment and resoluteness, standing strong in the face of adversity where others (including her husband) crumble and flee. Condé uses Tituba’s strength as a way to reverse many of the gendered stereotypes that individuals hold in the current day.

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