I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

by

Maryse Condé

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I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Maryse Condé's I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Maryse Condé

The youngest of eight children, Maryse Condé was born in Guadeloupe, a French-governed string of islands in the Caribbean. Condé’s parents were academics, and she quickly followed in their footsteps: after getting her degree in comparative literature at the Sorbonne in Paris, she began to teach at universities the world over, from West Africa to the Upper West Side. Condé specializes in post-colonial history and theory, with a particular focus on women’s place within the African diaspora. Her novels explore much of the same intellectual territory from a fictional perspective; her most important work includes the 1987 book Segu, about the rise of the slave trade in West Africa, and Heremakhonon, her debut, which follows a Caribbean woman who seeks to trace her roots back to Africa. Condé retired from teaching in 2005 and now lives with her second husband Richard Wilcox (who is also the English-language translator for many of her books). For her contribution to world literature, she has won the Prix Littéraire de la Femme (1986), the Prix de l’Académie Française (1988), the Prix Carbet de la Carïbe (1997), and the New Academy Prize in Literature (2018).
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Historical Context of I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

The most important historical backdrop for I, Tituba is the Salem witch trials, a real-life crisis that happened in western Massachusetts in the year 1692. Led by Abigail Williams, niece of town minister Samuel Parris, many teenaged girls in the isolated village began to accuse various adult residents of consorting with the devil. Ultimately, these accusations led to 19 men and women being executed, with hundreds more accused and put on trial. No one is quite sure what catalyzed this bloodbath, though historians have suggested it might have been motivated by land disputes (Tituba’s own theory), or that it might have arisen as a response to rampant sexual violence in the community. Either way, the Salem witch trials—which, as I, Tituba depicts, were repeated on a lesser scale in various nearby communities—remain one of the most fascinating and bizarre chapters in all of American history.

Other Books Related to I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

Condé’s work is firmly grounded in her Caribbean roots and as such can be seen as an example of post-colonial literature. Condé has cited Jean Rhys (who wrote the Jamaican-set novel Wide Sargasso Sea) as a particular influence, and she is friends and contemporaries with Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American novelist. But beyond Condé’s more general literary influences, I, Tituba specifically places itself in conversation with two famous works about colonial New England. The first is Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, which similarly focuses on the Salem witch trials; Condé repeatedly has her heroine interact with John and Elizabeth Proctor, the protagonists of Miller’s piece, though she has stated that she is not a fan of Miller’s work. And more importantly, Tituba’s friend Hester is a clear allusion to Hester Prynne, the central character in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Proctors and Hester both represent a rebellion against the strictures of early Puritan America, and their inclusion in the story links Condé’s narrative to a larger pattern in U.S. literature.
Key Facts about I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
  • Full Title: I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
  • When Written: 1980s
  • Where Written: Los Angeles, California
  • When Published: 1986
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Setting: The hills and plantations of Barbados; the Atlantic Ocean; Salem, Massachusetts, and various other cities and towns across New England
  • Climax: Tituba is accused of witchcraft by the villagers of Salem, and she must choose between naming others as witches or facing execution herself.
  • Antagonist: Samuel Parris (among others)
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

Always Alluding. If I, Tituba makes prominent allusions to both The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter, Condé’s referencing is even more overt in her more recent novel, the 1995 book Windward Heights. Continuing a long trend in Caribbean literature of responding to classic work with a post-colonial spin, Windward Heights retells the story of Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights—but instead of being set on the English moors, the novel takes place in Cuba and Guadeloupe in the early 20th century.

Lost in the Library. When Condé was a lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles, she spent much of her time in the giant stacks of the library. One day, she stumbled across a group of books about the witch trials, and she was drawn in by the spooky chaos. But rather than placing Tituba at the margins of this story, as earlier works like The Crucible had done, Condé found Tituba to be the most fascinating historical character of all—and thus decided to devote an entire novel to her.