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Tituba of Salem Village


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(1964) is a novel for young adults by Ann Petry. Before this novel, Arthur Miller's The Crucible (1953) was the only major work to explore the Salem witch trials and to include an analysis of Tituba Indian, an African Barbadian slave indicted of witchcraft and, in 1692, sentenced to hang. Miller's impressions of Tituba's personality and character, however, are familiar stereotypes.

Unlike Miller, Petry examines Tituba's life history and arrives at more convincing interpretations of her character. In Petry's version, Tituba appears perceptive yet sometimes naive; courageous yet a victim; an outsider yet a survivor; a slave yet a heroine. The novel moves chronologically, emphasizing her servitude in Barbados, Boston, and Salem Village. Petry includes people whose words and actions affected Tituba's life–John Indian, her wise and devoted husband; Susanna Endicott, her uninhibited mistress in Barbados who sells her and John to raise cash to pay a gambling debt; Reverend Samuel Parris, her owner in Salem Village who prays and lectures about a loving God but votes to hang Tituba when people in the community accuse her of witchcraft; and Abigail, Parris's adolescent niece who first instigates the witch scare that ensnarls Tituba. The novel concludes with dramatizations of the arrests and trials of Tituba, Goody Good, and Goody Osborne, and the events that lead to the two women's deaths and Tituba's pardon.

Tituba emerges in this novel as a rounded character whose complexity derives from her words, thoughts, actions, and deeds within a dialogic context of circumstances surrounding her life as a slave and a foreigner. To paraphrase Petry, from her essay “The Common Ground” (Horn Book Reflections, 1969), which discusses the juvenile work, Tituba's history is retold across the centuries in her voice and the voices of her husband, owners, and accusers.

Following its publication, criticism of Tituba appeared mostly in library journals, newspapers, and popular magazines. Only after the 1970s did critics begin to analyze the work in scholarly journals and books. While critics praise the book for its absorbing story and convincingly human characters, their classifications differ. Throughout the 1960s critics applauded the book as biography for adolescents. In the 1970s critics noted the influence of history and called it a historical novel. In the 1990s critics began to reread Tituba as a novel that evolves from historical tidbit, similar to how Toni Morrison created Beloved (1987).

Lloyd W. Brown, “Tituba of Barbados and the American Conscience: Historical Perspectives in Arthur Miller and Ann Petry,” Carribean Studies 13.4 (Jan. 1974): 118–126.Robert E. Morsberger, “The Further Transformation of Tituba,” New England Quarterly, 48.3 (Sept. 1974): 456–458.Hazel Arnett Ervin, Ann Petry: A Bio-Bibliography, 1993.Trudier Harris, “Before the Stigma of Race: Authority and Witchcraft in Ann Petry's Tituba of Salem Village” in Recovered Writers, Recovered Texts, ed. Dolan Hubbard, forthcoming 1997.

Hazel Arnett Ervin

Subjects: Literature.


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Authors

Ann Petry (1908—1997)


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