115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Tituba: A Sisterhood of Witchcraft

Teah Goldberg, "Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles"

Maryse Condé’s, I, Tituba Black Witch of Salem, relying on the faint surviving record of the historical Tituba, creates and recreates the life of Tituba both prior to her to arrival in Salem and the aftermath of her ordeal. Condé’s text attempts to restore to historical, cultural, and literary significance Tituba’s narrative and power.  Through Condé’s text, Tituba achieves revenge on her accusers and oppressors by restoring her lost voice and reclaiming her legacy.

Proposal: 

While the hunt for witches and witchcraft may have come to a shocking and deadly conclusion in Puritan Salem Village in 1692, accusations of witchcraft have for centuries prior to the Salem witch hunts been used as a weapon to culturally and historically silence women, especially women viewed as transgressive.  Tracing the protean character of the figure of the witch through seventeenth century and twentieth century historical documents and works of fiction what emerges is not whether or not witches exist(ed), but the ways in which the accusation of witchcraft was utilized as a tool to subjugate and marginalize women.  Regardless of the societyor time period the witch has persisted as a dangerous symbol of female disorder and a threat to a community that must be subdued or destroyed. 

Maryse Condé’s, I, Tituba Black Witch of Salem, relying on the faint surviving record of the historical accused and confessed witch Tituba, (re)creates the life of Tituba both prior to her to arrival in Salem and the aftermath of the witch hunts. Condé’s text attempts to restore to historical, cultural, and literary significance Tituba’s narrative and power.  Through Condé’s text, Tituba achieves revenge on her accusers and oppressors by restoring her lost voice and reclaiming her legacy.

For modern audiences Tituba exists in the margins of history.  Her true origins, ethnicity, her experience in jail, and her life after her eventual release have been lost, and if not purposefully suppressed at least viewed as insignificant and thus ignored. What is known, or  often assumed, is that the panic and chaos that overtook Salem in February 1692, and the months that followed, was largely a reaction to Tituba’s confession. This power transformed the witch trials and history.  However, the glaring absence of Tituba and her narrative from the official record has had a "curious effect.  Rather than extinguishing Tituba from history [her repression] has given her a permanent though tarnished historical presence that has survived for three centuries."  Few remember the names of the accusers, nor the accused, but Tituba and her influence persist.

In I, Tituba, Condé does not merely resurrect the lost narrative of a slave accused of witchcraft, rather her text is interested in the larger project of reinserting the historically silenced narratives of women back into the cultural and literary landscape.  The real Tituba, the historical figure, and her story have been irrevocably lost.  The accusations of witchcraft have been used to justify her historical erasure, as they were historically used to subjugate similarly transgressive or threatening women.   As Condé invents Tituba, she succeeds in writing-into-being an historically effaced woman.  Condé’s Tituba transcends the limits imposed on her by both Puritan society and the historical record.  She exposes the repression and marginalization of the female experience of all women, not solely those accused of, or victims of witchcraft.

Tituba was not the first (accused) witch to intrigue historians, authors, and audiences.  Witches  have haunted the imaginations of writers and readers/viewers long before Tituba.  Rather, Tituba becomes one incarnation of the much maligned figure of the witch in a far reaching legacy and mythology of demonized and vilified femininity.  By resurrecting Tituba’s intentionally ignored experience, contemporary authors such as Maryse Condé, simultaneously reinvigorate both historical and literary witches.  In calling attention to one female experience of fragmentation, authors expose the violence committed against all women and female characters accused or suspected of witchcraft.