Maryse Conde's View of Western Civilization Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1661 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Sociology

¶ … Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

What Does Conde Think of Western Civilization Consist of?

The characterization of Western Civilization that comes through the narrative of Tituba is an exploitative, unjust, and immensely hypocritical society. The author, through the character of Tituba, describes Colonial society from the perspective of an individual who is unfortunately situated to experience both the subjugation of women by men as well as the cruelty of slavery within a society that considers itself more civilized and closer to godliness than other human societies. That theme is evident throughout the work, beginning with the opening images described by Tituba, speaking of her mother's rape:

"Abena, my mother was raped by an English sailor on the deck of Christ the King

one day…"

The name of the ship is no coincidence but highlights the complete hypocrisy of the predominantly Christian society whose actual routine practices and complete absence of any empathy or compassion for slaves is utterly inconsistent with their supposed Christian ideals and values. This description of fundamental hypocrisy permeates the work throughout. Tituba specifically makes that point in her description of the Reverend Samuel Parris, who, despite his position as a religious leader, is abusive of his wife and daughter to such an extent that Tituba considers him a frightening figure rather than a spiritual person:

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"However fanatical and dour were those who shared his convictions, they were not as frightening as this tall, irate silhouette with his words of reprimand and warning."

What Does Conde Think Western Civilization is Built on?

TOPIC: Term Paper on Maryse Conde's View of Western Civilization Assignment

According to Conde's work, it seems clear that she believes Western civilization was built on the backs of enslaved people who were exploited by those in their own societies and then horribly abused by their eventual masters in the New World. In the author's view, much of so-called "polite" Western society remained ignorant of the extent to which other human beings had suffered in order to build and support the modern societies that they believed represented such an accomplishment. This view comes through in the voice of Mary Prince:

"The truth ought to be told of [the horrors of slavery]; and what my eyes have seen I think it is my duty to relate; for few people in England know what slavery

is. I have been a slave -- I have felt what a slave feels, and I know what a slave knows"

It is also clear that the author believes that much of Western society is built upon the unjustifiable subjugation of women by men. The narrative suggests that this is partly accomplished through the use of sexuality as a violent means of oppression and also as a psychological means of maintaining control over women psychologically. Tituba's mother (whose rape begins the novel) is eventually hanged for defending herself against yet another rape in which she wounds (but does not kill) her assailant with a sword.

The psychological subjugation of women through Western teachings about sexual morality is evident in the confusion and guilt associated with Tituba's discovery of her own sexual nature and her ability to derive sexual pleasure from a man. In that regard, the author also uses the metaphor of Tituba's need to be quiet during sexual encounters to avoid discovery as a means of expressing the shame associated with sexuality for women in Colonial (and other) Western societies. Tituba eventually wonders why women allow themselves to be subjugated by men and exploited sexually while at the same time being harshly punished for daring to reciprocate or explore their own sexuality for their pleasure:

"Why can't women do without men?" "Why must any relationship with the slightest hint of affection between a man and a woman necessarily end up in bed?"

The author also illustrates Tituba's voiceless existence as a black African female slave through Tituba's refusal to incriminate any others at her trial. This choice is separate from her confession because she confesses her guilt mainly in reliance on a false promise that it will earn her freedom from slavery. She refuses to incriminate others even to mitigate her own punishment.

Does Conde Think Western Society Exists at all?

The narrative seems to make clear that the author doubts that Puritan Colonial society qualifies as a "society" at all, given only that a prerequisite of qualifying as society is the absence of wanton cruelty and social injustice. In principle, a society based on the subjugation of one gender by the other and built (literally) by the cruel domination over other human beings through violent oppression and exploitation cannot meet the basic definition of being a civilized society.

In both cases, 17th century Colonial society represented little more that the concept that might makes right, which is the antithesis of the most fundamental principles of civilized society. Elizabeth Parris expresses the continual cruelty to which Colonial (and other Western) societies appear to have been completely oblivious despite the fact that the nature of the treatment of slaves should been patently obvious:

"How cruel it must be to be separated from your own family. -From your father, your mother, and your people."

In that sense, Western society, particularly during the slave trade era and during the superstitious hysteria that culminated in the Salem witch trials are merely representative of an uncivilized society except in its most superficial characteristics.

Conde's Understanding of Race, Gender, Imperialism, and History

The author's understanding of race, gender, imperialism, and history (expressed through her narrative and characters) evidences the profound sense of social injustice, racial oppression, and of centuries of forced subjugation and enslavement of human beings by Western Christian societies. Seventeenth century Colonial society was based on the supposed superiority of Western Christian peoples over the native peoples and so-called uncivilized "savages" of the black Africans. The author seems to indicate that at least on some level, the victims understood more about the arbitrary nature of such class distinctions and the development of unjust moral principles and values than their captors and exploiters who fancied themselves superior in kind. Mary Prince, in speaking about her mistress says:

"I was truly attached to her, and, next to my own mother, loved her better than any creature in the world. My obedience to her commands was cheerfully given: it sprung solely from the affection I felt for her, and not from fear of the power which the white people's law had given her over me."

[Emphasis supplied]

Is Conde's View of Western Civilization Contemporary or about the Past?

Clearly, Conde's view as expressed through her characters primarily describes the Colonial Western societies as they existed during the 17th century in which the events described took place. However, one also gets the sense that the narrative is as much a commentary on the need to address the vestigial remains of Colonial prejudice and attitudes that still remain in contemporary Western society. The author introduces the character of Benjamin Cohen d'Azevedo, Tituba's final owner. He is a Jewish widower who, like Tituba, has also been the victim of social and religious prejudices in Colonial society. While slavery no longer exists in Western society, racial, ethnic, and religious prejudices certainly have not been eliminated. Even today, people of color and of minority religious affiliation are routinely discriminated against throughout mainstream society notwithstanding formal legislation that has pushed such discrimination and prejudices under the covers.

The fact that the author chooses to have Tituba speak from the grave after her murder strongly suggests that the author intends her words to be relevant to the future as well as to the past. After Tituba is hanged in connection with Iphigene's planned rebellion, she vows to continue her fight:

"Now that I've gone over to the invisible world I continue to heal and cure.

But primarily I have dedicated myself to hardening men's… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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