For Tituba, the novel’s protagonist, every day is a struggle to survive: as a Black woman living in the 17th century, she faces the quotidian brutality of slavery, the constant threat of fatal white violence, and the ravages of disease and childbirth. John Indian, Tituba’s husband, instructs Tituba to protect herself at any cost, whether that means playing into white people’s stereotypes of her, changing her core beliefs, or betraying the other people in her life—“the duty of a slave,” he argues, “is to survive.” But while Tituba spends her time using tropical plants and incantations to help the people around her stave off injury and illness, she is often hesitant to look out for herself in the same way. This reluctance stems in part from Tituba’s determination never to compromise her own goodness and integrity, even if she must sometimes put herself at risk to protect these values (as she does by refusing to name names during her time in the Salem witch trials). But it also comes from Tituba’s knowledge, learned from her beloved teacher Mama Yaya, that people can live on after death in their loved ones’ minds; indeed, Tituba has spent much of her time on earth being guided by the spirits of her mother Abena and her surrogate father Yao, both long deceased. Thus, rather than emphasizing flesh-and-blood survival above all else, the novel shows that there is more than one way to endure—and that remaining true to one’s values can be just as important as remaining alive.
Surviving vs. Enduring ThemeTracker
Surviving vs. Enduring Quotes in I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
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.
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!”
“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.
“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.”
You may be surprised that I shiver at the idea of death. But that's the ambiguity of people like us. Our body is mortal and we are therefore prey to every torment of the common mortal. Like them, we fear suffering. Like them, we are frightened of the terrible antechamber that ends our life on earth. However certain we are that the doors will open before us onto another form of life, this time eternal, we are nevertheless wracked with anguish.
In order to bring peace back into my heart and mind I had to repeat Mama Yaya’s words: “Out of them all, you'll be the only one to survive.”
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.
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.
The reader may be surprised that at a time when the lash was constantly being used, I managed to enjoy this peace in freedom. Our islands have two sides to them. The side of the masters’ carriages and their constables on horseback, armed with muskets and savage, baying hounds. And the other, mysterious and secret side, composed of passwords, whispers, and a conspiracy of silence. It was on this side that I lived, protected by common collusion. Mama Yaya made a thick vegetation grow up around my cabin and it was as if I lived in a fortified castle. An inexperienced eye could only make out a tangle of guava trees, ferns, frangipani, and acoma trees, specked here and there by the mauve flower of a hibiscus.
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.