Tituba in The Crucible Video

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  • 0:03 Tituba as an Outsider
  • 1:38 Tituba as a Foil
  • 3:33 From Foil to Conformist
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: John Gonzales

John has 20+ years experience teaching at the college level in areas that include English and American literature, Humanities, and Interdisciplinary Studies.

This lesson puts a spotlight on the character Tituba from Arthur Miller's award-winning play, 'The Crucible.' Her function as a dramatic foil will be discussed, and we will also consider her position as a cultural outsider.

Tituba as an Outsider

Arthur Miller's The Crucible might be set in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, but the playwright created his work to comment on the Cold War culture of America in the 1950s. The play takes place in a society where sameness and conformity are highly valued and difference is not only discouraged, but arouses suspicion within the community.

In a community like this, what happens to the person who can't help but be different, whose background, core behaviors, and physical body mark her as different in every way? In The Crucible, the character Tituba precisely fits that description. Unfortunately, many pseudo-histories have cast Tituba as the real witch of Salem, but Miller interprets her far differently.

Tituba is the ultimate outsider in Salem as envisioned in the script. She is the only person of color, she was not raised with Puritan Christian beliefs, she speaks a different language, and she is a slave. She has relatively few lines and makes only three brief appearances, yet Arthur Miller gives her the first line of the play, suggesting that he felt her character had an important early impression to make on the audience.

On one level, Tituba's status as the other makes her an ideal dramatic foil, or a character who helps define other characters through distinct contrast. But in adapting the historical Tituba to his own uses in the play, Miller also forces us to consider the nature of communities that demand conformity in the first place.

Tituba as a Foil

The opening image of the first scene is that of Reverend Samuel Parris praying over his daughter, Betty. Tituba enters asking about Betty's health. She is clearly overstepping a boundary, but her concern and love for Betty seem to be her overwhelming priorities. Her motives appear simple and pure. By contrast, as much as Betty's father might love her, and as much as he agonizes over her comatose condition, personal and professional politics come into the picture almost immediately. He seems just as concerned over the implications for his community reputation if Betty is diagnosed to be suffering from demonic influences as he is concerned with finding the source of her condition. We have to remember that these characters legitimately believe witchcraft is an active force in their world, as much as viral infection or an IRS audit is in ours.

Later in this first scene, Reverend Parris has Tituba brought in for a cross examination by Reverend Hale that also includes his niece, Abigail Williams, whom Parris caught with his daughter and Tituba performing a strange ceremony the previous night, just before Betty slipped into her stupor. Abigail works desperately to cover her involvement, but it comes out that Abigail herself persuaded Tituba to perform some of the rituals of her heritage and as a powerless slave, how could Tituba resist?

Again, Tituba is open, candid, and confused when Abigail accuses her of forcing the girls to participate in the ritual and influencing her through dreams. Abigail even takes the opportunity to blame Tituba for her tendency to break into laughter during church service. Tituba, still honest and open, is terrified and astonished at these developments, but once she is threatened with beating and even execution, she embraces social conformity out of self-preservation.

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