I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

by Maryse Condé 
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I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem Summary

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé is a work of historical fiction that recounts the life of Tituba, a Barbadian woman who figured in the Salem witch trials in 1692.

  • After her mother, a slave, is hanged, the young Tituba learns the art of healing from Mama Yaya. After marrying John Indian, she accompanies him and his master, Samuel Parris, to Salem, Massachusetts.
  • Tituba is outcast by the Puritan community of Salem, accused of witchcraft, and imprisoned, but she survives the ensuing trials and executions.
  • Tituba eventually returns to Barbados, where she dies in an attempted slave uprising.

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Last Updated on September 2, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 719

Introduction

Published in 1986, the award-winning I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem is a fictional reimagining of the complete life of Tituba, a real-life slave and key figure during the notorious Salem witch trials of 1692. In presenting Tituba as the heroine of her story and offering a first-person account of her life, Maryse Condé gives voice to a woman whose life has been largely overlooked by historians. This semi-fictional tale explores Tituba's resilience in the face of oppression while also offering a searing and contemporary critique of the destructive effects of sexism, racism, and intolerance.

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Plot Summary

Tituba begins her narrative by describing her conception, which occurred aboard a slave ship heading to Barbados. Her slave mother, an Ashanti woman named Abena, is raped by an English sailor. After her arrival in Barbados, Abena is assaulted once again—this time by her white owner. Though Abena is able to fend off her would-be rapist, she is hanged for her defiance, an event witnessed by the seven-year-old Tituba. After her mother's death, Tituba is raised by a woman named Mama Yaya, a healer. Mama Yaya becomes a surrogate mother to Tituba and teaches her the art of spiritual healing, which Tituba quickly develops a talent for.

Mama Yaya dies when Tituba is fourteen, and Tituba lives in the forest for some time, communicating with the spirits of her mother and Mama Yaya for company. Eventually, Tituba meets and falls for John Indian, a slave owned by a vindictive white woman named Susanna Endicott, whose skin is "the color of curdled milk." Tituba marries John and moves in with him on the Endicott estate, though the spirits of Mama Yaya and her mother try to persuade her otherwise. John is eventually sold to Samuel Parris, a reverend with plans to move to the New World. Tituba joins her husband, and they both are taken to Salem, Massachusetts, as the property of Reverend Samuel Parris.

In Salem Village, Tituba is treated with disdain by the Puritans, who are suspicious of her healing powers, even though they frequently request her assistance. Tituba is later accused of witchcraft by several local girls and jailed. John Indian persuades her that she must confess in order to save her own life, and she does. However, John, fearing for his own life, ultimately abandons her. During her imprisonment, Tituba meets Hester Prynne, the fictional heroine of The Scarlet Letter, who has been jailed for conceiving a child out of wedlock. Hester is enraged that she alone suffers the consequences of the affair, while her male partner walks free. When faced with the prospect of having to wear a red "A" (her punishment for adultery in The Scarlet Letter), Hester takes her own life in protest.

Once the witch trial hysteria dies down, Benjamin Cohen d'Azevedo, a Jewish man who has lost his wife to whooping cough, rescues Tituba from jail. Needing her to take care of his nine surviving children, Benjamin becomes her new owner. Both Tituba and Benjamin feel isolated and suffer rejection from Puritan society—primarily due to their religious and cultural backgrounds. These shared feelings eventually lead to a romantic relationship between the two. After his children die in a fire ignited by intolerant Puritans, however, Cohen decides to leave for Rhode Island, which is known to be more religiously tolerant. Before leaving, he frees Tituba and arranges for her to return to Barbados.

In Barbados, Tituba strikes up a relationship with Christopher, the leader of a group of revolutionaries who refer to themselves as the maroons. Their relationship is short-lived, and Tituba eventually parts ways with Christopher's group and returns to her old home in the forest. One day, a group of slaves bring a young boy with severe injuries (sustained from whipping) to Tituba, who is known for her abilities as a healer. The boy, whose name is Iphigene, eventually recovers and becomes something of a son to her. Iphigene is also involved in rebellious activities and plans to lead a slave revolt; he requests Tituba's assistance. Tragically, the plan fails after Christopher reveals the plot to the plantation owners, and both Iphigene and Tituba are executed for their involvement in the uprising. As a spirit, she joins her mother and Mama Yaya and reaffirms her commitment to achieving freedom for the slaves.

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Chapter Summaries