Literary Criticisms

Maryse Condé’s “I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem”: An Annotated Bibliography of Literary Criticism

Fulton, Dawn. Signs of Dissent: Maryse Condé and Postcolonial Criticism. University of Virginia Press, 2008.  In the second chapter of this critical companion to Condé’s works, entitled “Fixing Tituba: Imitations of the Marginal”, Fulton does an excellent job highlighting areas of critical interest and contextualizing debate surrounding Condé’s most critically acclaimed work.  She begins by noting the critical interest in “I, Tituba…” as stemming from its relevance to postcolonial “questions of unofficial histories, subaltern voices, and colonial authority” (Fulton 39).  Fulton follows by discussing Condé’s choice to place Tituba as the first-person narrator or speaker of her own story, and how this use of the marginalized subject offers readers the ability examine the majority culture from a minority perspective, the “dehumanizing effect of [the] marginal condition,” and her re-telling as a “corrective gesture that restores complexity and subjectivity to a neglected victim of history” (41).  Additionally, Fulton implores readers to look at Tituba’s character as multidimensionally operative due to Condé’s own insistence on her use of parody throughout the text.  Especially useful to this study is Fulton’s focus on the importance of race and the continued interest in assigning a true racial identity to Tituba; after reviewing criticisms and evolution of Tituba’s character in literary history, she notes that the zeal to uncover the race of Tituba is indicative of the postcolonial quest for racial purity. In short, this source is an excellent place to begin for those interested in understanding studying Condé’s text.

Hansen, Chadwick. “The Metamorphosis of Tituba, or Why American Intellectuals Can’t Tell an Indian Witch from a Negro.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 47, no. 1, 1974, pp. 3–12. JSTOR, JSTOR,  In this article, Hansen traces any and all descriptions of Tituba chronologically across historical and literary texts in a way that clearly shows the subjectivity of historians and their penned histories.  Throughout this chronology, Hansen notes a contrary trend of historians (and sociologists) to comment on the importance of primary sources while their descriptive histories clearly make use of particular secondary, literary, and/or dramatic references to Tituba.  He notes, “it is painfully evident that we are dealing here with a kind of inverse racial prejudice, and that… American intellectuals prefer Indian to English; and half-Indian, half-Negro to Indian; and Negro to half-Indian, half-Negro” (12).  Despite the fact that all records indicate that the rituals that led to the witch trials were English ones, and that all primary documents record Tituba as an Indian (South-American Native) woman, historians continue to “document” Tituba in ways that show the deeply-rooted and systematic racism of American thought and culture.

Hartman, Saidiya. “Venus in Two Acts.” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism, vol. 26, 2008, pp. 1–14. Project MUSE [Johns Hopkins UP], DOI: 10.1353/smx.0.0006.  In this article, Hartman exposes the concept of the duality of both narratives and history.  Just as there are two sides to a story, history has a way of doubling, of repeating itself.  To Hartman, this concept is the foundation and the (and possibly only possible) purpose of the counter-narrative: to provide not only a voice to the silenced, but also a voice which speaks to the legacy of untold histories.  The counternarrative speaks to the “way in which our age is tethered to hers…by which I mean the detritus of lives with which we have yet to attend, a past that has yet to be done, and the ongoing state of emergency in which black life remains in peril (13).  In essence, Hartman explains that it is not enough to put a reader in the place of those silenced by history.  Rather, the counter-narrative must encourage readers to examine the restrictions which gave rise to those silences, and whether those restrictions are still active today.  As such, Hartman’s exploration of the boundaries and possibilities of the counternarrative encourages readers of Maryse Conde’s “I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem” to see the her counternarrative as a useful text regardless of its perceived historical (in)authenticity.

Jalalzai, Zubeda. “Historical Fiction and Maryse Condé’s ‘I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem.’” African American Review, vol. 43, no. 2/3, 2009, pp. 413–425. JSTOR, JSTOR,  Here Jalalzai begins by acknowledging Condé’s specific portrayal of Tituba as “an urgent artistic and political choice” that, though historically implausible, allows for a necessary and historically-accurate portrayal of Puritan New England (413).  She quotes several interviews with Condé in which I, Tituba…‘s author stresses that, despite her inclusion of historical information, she never intended her story to be read as history; rather, Jalalzai notes that Condé’s multifaceted character and story are “indicative of the postmodern impulses to tear down heroes and to challenge master-narratives” (414).  Jalalzai also gives a chronology of historical mentions of Tituba, but takes a less firm stand than Hansen (see above entry) by writing that historians are divided on Tituba’s race, and that the historical documents that place her origins in South/Central America are questionable.  She ends by noting that Condé’s choice to include historical information in her novel speaks to a collective desire to cling to “history” despite its known limitations.

Rosenthal, Bernard. “Tituba’s Story.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 71, no. 2, 1998, pp. 190–203. JSTOR, JSTOR,  In Rosenthal’s article–one cited by numerous historical and literary critics of Tituba’s role in Salem– Rosenthal, too provides a descriptive history of the metamorphosis of what he often refers to as the “Tituba myth” (the mythical aspect being her African descent).  He notes prominent critics and historians including Angela Davis and Peter Hoffer who insist on Tituba’s blackness based on both histories imbued with unfounded literary descriptions and–in the case of Davis–a need to reclaim myth that substantiates a marginalized black woman as inherently powerful and crucial to a significant historical event. He also mentions other literary authors–both American (John Neal) and British (Elizabeth Gaskell)–that contributed to the idea of Tituba’s African descent by depictions based on feared stereotypes associated more easily associated with the occult.  He writes, “Tituba has been collectively imagined as the dark outsider, the intruder who could be blamed for the community’s troubles. The romanticized Indian of the nineteenth century having been virtually eliminated or removed to reservations, the feared ‘Negro’ survived” (202).  In short, Rosenthal’s article agrees with majority critical opinion that Tituba’s blackness has evolved (and notably, darkened) throughout time in ways consistent with the evolution of racism in America.