Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The twin themes of racism and sexism resonate throughout I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem. As a black female slave living under colonial rule, Tituba is a nonperson, rendered invisible by her race, gender, and social status. The actual records of the Salem witch trials, written by white males, offer limited information about the historical Tituba, demonstrating how unimportant the officials of Salem considered her. Condé’s revisionist novel gives Tituba a voice, an identity, and a profession of which she is proud. She practices her calling as a conjure woman with dignity, compassion, and empathy, and her power is respected among her own people in Barbados. However, the Puritan view of witchcraft reveals an ingrained racism and sexism within white colonial culture. The Puritans believe black to be the color of Satan. By implication, Tituba’s skin color links her to the devil. The fact that Tituba’s native religion focuses on the mysteries of herbal healing and is matriarchal in nature also presents a threat to the patriarchal Puritan society. Tituba is feared because of her power, and yet some in the Puritan community hypocritically ask her to weave spells that will harm their neighbors.

Another theme running through the novel is the enduring power of love, which Condé ties to the feminine principle. Tituba, Abena, Mama Yaya, and Hester form a transcendent spiritual community of women around which the novel revolves. Although the male culture (both black and white) may gain dominance over women and wreak havoc in society, Tituba and her spirit guides subvert masculine cruelty on an emotional and spiritual level—-a level that men cannot experience because they are too blinded by their own violence. Yet Condé also sees hope in the “feminine” principles of love and compassion, believing that, when practiced, they can bring about social change.