Throughout much of her life, Tituba lives in slavery. Though the historical record says very little about Tituba—the real-life woman who played a central role in the 17th-century Salem witch trials—the novel works to fill in the blanks, imagining Tituba’s interiority and her lived experience of enslavement. As it follows Tituba from her childhood in Barbados to her adulthood in New England, the novel shows just how much every aspect of daily life is impacted by the horrors of slavery. Enslaved families are constantly being ripped apart, as white planters can—on a whim—sell spouses away from each other or kill beloved parents (such that enslaved families are often “defeated, dispersed, and auctioned off”). Sex and romance, too, are transformed by enslavement: the story begins when Tituba’s mother is raped by a white sailor and Tituba is “born from this act of aggression,” leading her to live the rest of her life in fear of being assaulted by various white men. Anti-Black racism makes Tituba a source of suspicion for the mostly white communities of New England; frequently, Tituba is arrested, stoned, or threatened with execution. And even when there is no direct violence, it is difficult to create pleasure or meaningful connection, because white slaveholders demand so much brutal work—as Tituba and her husband John Indian learn, when the entire day is spent laboring, it is hard to find time for anything else.
On the one hand, therefore, I, Tituba demonstrates how profoundly and horrifically slavery shapes every aspect of Tituba’s lived experience; even when Tituba starts to connect with people who have never been enslaved, she realizes that they can never fully understand each other because, having lived free, they do not “exist in the same universe.” But on the other hand, if slavery as an institution works to disrupt every aspect of daily life, Tituba also discovers that finding everyday pleasure under slavery is itself an act of rebellion. Whether it is engaging in passionate sex, dancing with friends, or growing delicious food, Tituba and the people she influences are able to defy an unspeakably cruel institution with small moments of joy—to find moments of “uncertain happiness” despite being “constantly under threat.”
Slavery and Daily Life ThemeTracker
Slavery and Daily Life Quotes in I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
Mama Yaya taught me about herbs. Those for inducing sleep. Those for healing wounds and ulcers. Those for loosening the tongues of thieves. Those that calm epileptics and plunge them into blissful rest. Those that put words of hope on the lips of the angry, the desperate, and the suicidal.
Mama Yaya taught me to listen to the wind rising and to measure its force as it swirled above the cabins it had the power to crash.
Mama Yaya had taught me the sea, the mountains, and the hills. She taught me that everything lives, has a soul, and breathes. That everything must be respected. That man is not the master riding through his Kingdom on horseback.
The dead only die if they die in our hearts. They live on if we cherish them and honor their memory, if we place their favorite delicacies in life on their graves, and if we kneel down regularly to commune with them. They are all around us, eager for attention, eager for affection. A few words are enough to conjure them back and to have their invisible bodies pressed against ours in their eagerness to make themselves useful.
“Mama Yaya,” I said, panting. “I want this man to love me.”
She shook her head. “Men do not love. They possess. They subjugate.”
What is a witch? I noticed that when he said the word, it was marked with disapproval. Why should that be? Why? Isn't the ability to communicate with the invisible world, to keep constant links with the dead, to care for others and heal, a superior gift of nature that inspires respect, admiration, and gratitude? Consequently, shouldn't the witch […] be cherished and revered rather than feared?
John Indian closed the door with a wooden latch and took me in his arms, whispering: “The duty of a slave is to survive! Do you understand? To survive!”
In the early afternoon a man came to see [Susanna], a man such as I had never seen in the streets of Bridgetown, nor for that matter anywhere else. Tall, very tall, dressed in black from head to foot, with a chalky white skin […] I have already said much about the eyes of Susanna Endicott, but these! Imagine greenish, cold eyes, scheming and wily, creating evil because they saw it everywhere. It was as if I had come face to face with a snake or some evil, wicked reptile. I was immediately convinced that this Satan we heard so much about must stare in the same way at people he wishes to lead astray.
I cannot describe the effect this unfortunate black cat had on the children, as well as on Elizabeth and Samuel. Samuel Parris seized his prayer book and began to recite a seemingly endless prayer […] Abigail asked, holding her breath: “Aunt, it was the devil, wasn't it?”
“What will you think up next? It was only an animal that was disturbed by our arrival. Why do you keep talking about the devil? The invisible world around us only torments us if we provoke it.”
“There are two Indians working at the Black Horse. If you could see how they are treated. They told me how they were deprived of their land, how the white man destroyed their herds and gave them ‘fire water,’ which sends a man to his grave in next to no time period. Ah, white folks!”
These stories puzzled me and I tried to understand. “Perhaps it's because they have done so much harm to their fellow beings, to some because their skin is black, to others because their skin is red, that they have such a strong feeling of being damned?”
Lament for my lost child
The moonstone dropped into the water,
Into the waters of the river,
And my fingers couldn’t reach it,
Woe is me!
The moonstone has fallen.
Sitting on a rock on the riverbank,
I wept and I lamented.
Oh, softly shining stone,
Glimmering at the bottom of the water.
The hunter passed that way
With his bow and arrows.
“Why are you crying, my lovely one?”
“I’m crying because my moonstone
Lies at the bottom of the water.”
“If it is but that, my lovely,
I will help you.”
But the hunter died and was drowned.
How could their yearning and nostalgia possibly be compared to mine? What they yearned for was the sweetness of a gentler life, the life of white women who were served and waited on by attentive slaves. Even if the reverend Mr. Parris had ended up losing all his wealth and hopes, the life they had spent there was composed of luxury and voluptuousness. And what did I yearn for? The subtle joys of being a slave. The cakes made out of crumbs from the stale bread of life. The fleeting moments of forbidden games.
We did not belong to the same universe, Goodwife Parris, Betsey, and I, and all the affection in the world could not change that.
There were two or three black servants in the community, how they got there I have no idea, and all of us were not simply cursed, but visible messengers of Satan. So we were furtively approached to try and assuage unspeakable desires for revenge, to liberate unsuspecting hatred and bitterness, and to do evil by every means. He who passed for the most devoted of husbands dreamed of nothing but killing his wife! She who passed for the most faithful of wives was prepared to sell the soul of her children to get rid of the father!
“I cannot do what your heart dares not disclose. The woman who revealed her science taught me to heal and console rather than to do evil. Once, when, like yourself, I dreamed of doing my worst, she warned: ‘Don't become like them, knowing only how to do evil.’”
[Sarah] shrugged her frail shoulders under her wretched shawl. “Knowledge must adapt itself to society. You are no longer in Barbados among our unfortunate brothers and sisters. You are among monsters who are set on destroying us.”
“I have been watching you, my poor suffering wife, during all these years we have been together and I can see that you don’t understand this white man’s world in which we live. You make exceptions. You believe that some of them can respect and love us. How mistaken you are! You must hate without distinction!”
“Well, you're a fine one to talk, John Indian! You're like a puppet in their hands. I'll pull this string and you pull that one…”
“I wear a mask, my tormented wife, painted the colors they want […] and behind all that, I, John Indian, am free.”
“What does Satan look like? Don't forget he has more than one disguise up his sleeve. That's why after all this time nobody's caught him yet. Sometimes he's a black man...”
There I interrupted her in a worried voice. “If I say that, won't they think of John Indian?”
She shrugged her shoulders irritably. Hester got irritated easily. “Don't talk to me about your wretched husband! He's no better than mine. Shouldn't he be here to share your sorrow? Life is too kind to men, whatever their color.”
I was wracked by a violent feeling of pain and terror. It seemed that I was gradually being forgotten. I felt that I would only be mentioned in passing in the Salem witchcraft trials about which so much would be written later, trials that would arouse the curiosity and pity of generations to come as the greatest testimony of a superstitious and barbaric age. There would be mention here and there of “a slave originating from the West Indies and probably practicing ‘hoodoo.’” There would be no mention of my age or my personality. I would be ignored. As early as the end of the 17th century, petitions would be circulated, judgments made, rehabilitating the victims, restoring their honor, and returning their property to their descendants. I would never be included! Tituba would be condemned forever! There would never, ever, be a careful, sensitive biography recreating my life and its suffering.
And I was outraged by this future injustice that seemed more cruel than even death itself.
Having someone recognize me after ten years of absence brought tears to my eyes. I had forgotten this ability our people have of remembering. Nothing escapes them! Everything is engraved in their memory!
Maroons? 10 years earlier, when I had left Barbados, maroons were few and far between. There was merely talk of a certain Ti-Noel and his family, who held Farley Hill. Nobody had ever seen him. He had been living in everyone’s imagination for so long that he must have been an old man by now. Yet he was said to be young and bold and his exploits had become household legends.
“Tituba, a slave originating from the West Indies and probably practicing ‘hoodoo.’ A few lines in the many volumes written on the Salem witch trials. Why was I going to be ignored? This question too had crossed my mind. Is it because nobody cares about a Negress and her trials and tribulations? Is that why?
I can look for my story among those of the witches of Salem, but it isn't there.
When I got to the burning of Benjamin Cohen d’Azevedo’s house, he interrupted me with a frown: “But why? Wasn't he white like the others? […] Do they need to hate so much that they hate each other?”
I was not really worried about the outcome of the plot. In fact, I tried not to think about it. I let my mind blur and color dreams and I concentrated above all on my baby. She had started to move in my womb; a sort of slow, gentle creeping as if she wanted to explore her confined quarters. […] A little longer and we would be looking at each other and her fresh gaze would make me ashamed of my wrinkles and my stumps of teeth. My daughter would settle old scores for me! She would know how to win the love of a man with a heart as warm as cornbread. […] They would have children they would teach to see beauty in themselves. Children who would grow straight and free toward the sky.
Sometimes I become a fighting cock in the pit and the clamor of the crowd sends my head spinning […] Oh how I love to give this slave the excitement of winning! Off he goes, dancing and brandishing his fists, a gesture that will soon symbolize other victories. […] Sometimes I become a goat and caper around Samantha, who is no fool. For this child of mine has learned to recognize my presence in the twitching of an animal's coat, the crackling of a fire between four stones, the rainbow-hued babbling of the river, and the sound of the wind as it whistles through the great trees on the hills.