Knowledge of a Hunt: Tituba and Salem Village through the Ages

Dr. Amy W. S. Lee
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This presentation aims to look at three different literary texts which share a similar historical setting, but constructing different characters and different dramatic actions in the texts for very different effects and outcomes. Arthur Miller's The Crucible (1952), Ann Petry's Tituba in Salem Village (1964), and Maryse Conde's I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (1986) have all used the 17th century witch hunt in Salem Village as the background. The different historical, political and cultural backgrounds of the writers, however, create from the factual knowledge very different statements and purposes. By examining how these three texts make use of the knowledge of the witch hunt, it is hoped that the way old components in the literary arts rejuvenate themselves to be relevant can be discussed. Arthur Miller's play, written during the aftermath of the McCarthy era, speaks not only of the politics of small colonial village in the 17th century, but also of the political horror of 20th century America, gripped by a fear which was shapeless and omnipresent. In this electrifying atmosphere, the collective identity, represented by the church, battled against the individual sense of righteousness and honour. Ann Petry's 1964 work was written and marketed as a young person's fiction also of the Salem Witch Hunt era. The story, however, has stayed away from the ruthless struggle between the teenage girls and the individual Salem residents, and focused on a rather unusual figure: the accused witch Tituba. Written by Ann Petry, one of the most famous female writers during the 1940s in America, the highlighting of Tituba seems a natural decision. Her marginal identity in the midst of the white religious community of slave owners may be one of oppression and silences. Yet in this novel, the events during the Salem witch hunt were clearly and intelligently retold from the perspective of Tituba, the black female slave who survived the trials. Although a young person's fiction, this novel carries new knowledge of the same incidents because it is told in the voice of an unheard of personality, the oppressed, the Other. Maryse Conde's 1986 novel takes a similar line of narration, but with a twist. Ambiguous in its textual identity, the narrative is transgressing boundaries of text and credibility. Told in the name of the author, the narrative assumes a first person narrative mode which reminds us of an autobiography. Yet this autobiography goes beyond death and is still continuing beyond the scope of the written text. Tituba, boldly assuming responsibility in the title of the book, and also throughout the narrative, is also consciously commenting on the other records and representations of the incident. This bold initiative challenges the conventional boundaries of autobiography and other narratives of personal stories. In making these challenges, Conde is linking the personal with the collective, using the one to talk about the other. The three narratives, all using a past more than 300 years ago, create discourses which highlight different types of knowledge. The ambiguous link between what is private and what is public creates an intensive field of struggle between different participants in the Salem incident in Miller's play. This knowledge of the private and the public becomes the personal perspective Tituba uses to describe her own experiencing of the events in Ann Petry's young person's fiction. Maryse Conde takes the distinct fields of the private and the public in her postcolonial narrative and make them part of the identity experience of the protagonist Tituba. The three texts have shown three varieties of knowledge in different forms making use of the same basic ingredients.

Keywords: Arthur Miller, The Crucible, Ann Petry, Tituba of Salem Village, Maryse Conde, I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Knowledge of a Hunt

Dr. Amy W. S. Lee

Assistant Professor, Humanities Programme, Arts Faculty, Hong Kong Baptist University
Hong Kong

Ref: H05P0729