Study Guide

A Break With Charity Choices

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Oh, if I had only known that day so long ago when I stood outside the parsonage in the cold, aching to belong to that circle of girls who did not want me. If I had only known what they were about, truly I would have turned and run the other way!

I would have turned and run across the snow, back to my horse and cart, and dashed away!

I close my eyes and tremble with the memory. Wishing I could bring it back. Wishing. For I remember just how it was, and where I was standing and what I was feeling in that moment it was given to me to decide what to do.

Given the chance again, I know I would do the right thing. I would run. I know I would!

Wouldn't I? (Prologue.23-27)

Susanna has a serious case of the what ifs. She can't help but wonder what would happen if she could climb in a time machine and go back fourteen years. Would she make a different decision? She sure hopes so, but there's no way to know for sure. Susanna has a lot of tough choices to make in this book. And in her prologue she lets us know that indecision is a pretty big part of her life then and now.

Chapter 1

Before I could consider the question further, however, I was covering the ground between myself and my horse and cart, to fetch a twist of tobacco for John Indian.

And that is how it started with me. That began my part in the madness that came to our village in the year 1692. But I had no idea of what would transpire once I got in the back door of the parsonage. All I knew was that Tituba told fortunes. And that I wanted to know if William would be coming back to us. Or was he lost, forever, at sea. (1.78-79)

Susanna knows that her parents wouldn't be happy about her visiting Tituba—in fact, they'd be pretty furious. But she decides to do it anyway. For Susanna, knowing about her sea-faring bro is more important than making her parents happy. And that is one decision that Susanna can never take back.

Chapter 8

"Why let Betty and Abigail have all the sport? They were the center of attention. The other girls and I discussed it. We decided this was our chance to take part in something very wondrous."

"Wondrous?" I could not abide what I was hearing.

"Yes! It was our chance to break out of the chains they bind us with in this dreary place. But also, we couldn't abandon Abigail and Betty. They didn't have the sense to carry this matter through and not be discovered. They needed our advice." (8.40-42)

When Ann joins the afflicted girls, she makes a huge decision. For Ann, this choice is all about freedom and power—she's bored by her town and wants to have some fun. Well we wouldn't call accusing people of witchcraft fun, but that's Ann's new favorite sport. And she seems pretty pleased with her decision, don't you think?

Chapter 12

There was nothing I could do now, even if I had a mind to. Anyone who spoke out against them was named or had someone in their family cried out on. The evil the girls had started had taken on a life of its own and was gaining momentum, like a ship under full sail with good trade winds behind it. (12.84)

The tormented girls are being manipulative, and since they accuse anyone who stands up to them, they're basically running the show. And that means Susanna feels like she doesn't have a choice at all. Do you agree with Susanna? Or does she have other options that she's just too scared to see?

Johnathan Hathorne

"Johnathan has come to our way of thinking. You may speak in front of him."

Mama raised her eyes. "What convinced you to have a change of heart, young man?"

"I was in court the day they examined Rebecca Nurse. My father and I have been arguing ever since. I think he is ready to disown me as a son," Johnathan said miserably. (12.66-68)

Johnathan knows exactly when he changed his mind about the witch madness. And it's pretty cool that he's come around to the good side, but there are some serious consequences too… like how his dad is super angry and he might be cast out of his family. How do you think Johnathan got so motivated to take a stand against his dad?

Chapter 18
Johnathan Hathorne

"What do you want from us?" Johnathan asked.

"Susanna knows," she said softly. Then she turned and pointed to the lifeless figure on the end of the rope, etched against the blue June sky. See how she swings in the breeze. Hear the creaking of the tree branch. How many others will swing on it, hey?" (18.41-42)

Well, Goody Bibber, that's a not-so-subtle way to call Susanna out. But the fact is Susanna has to keep answering this question over and over. And over again. Keep your eye out for all the times she asks herself if she should come forward. We bet you might even lose count.

Chapter 20

Oh, I did not know, I did not know! I knew nothing anymore, it seemed. All reason had fled. But through my confusion, one thought pushed its way, like a haunted galleon, through a wall of fog.

I could not tell the truth about the girls in the circle until William safely returned. I must let the witch trials continue. Mary Bradbury must go to trial. Certainly she would be condemned. I could not take the chance and let her live. Or William might be destroyed. (20.128-129)

Susanna is just a bundle of nerves these days—she is super confused now that she fears Mary Bradbury might be a witch. And she's pretty scared for her brother. And freaked out about her part in all of it. But we've got to admit: she doesn't seem too worried that Mary might be innocent and killed anyway. What do you think of Susanna's decision to stay silent? Is she being protective or cold-hearted?

Chapter 21

"When Pike comes in August, Susanna, I would have you tell him what you know about the circle."

I looked out the window, saying nothing.

"Your family will be safe in New York by then. But we must prevent the execution of others."

I continued to gaze outside. A morning breeze lifted the leaves of the trees. I heard the floorboards creak as Joseph came to stand beside me.

"You will do it, won't you, Susanna?"

I looked up into his face, which I had come to know and love as one would love a father's or brother's. "Oh, Joseph, I can't. Please forgive me." And I burst into a fresh onslaught of tears and ran from the room. (21.37-42)

Susanna finally has her chance to make a big difference in the anti-witch campaign but she just can't muster the guts to do it. This is the umpteenth time she's decided not to chat about the lying girls's circle, and it has us feeling super frustrated. What do you think Susanna is mulling over as she's looking out the window? What factors is she using to help make her decision?

Chapter 23

"Are ye sure, Susanna English," he intoned in his best preaching voice, "that everything you have told me here, this seventh day of August in the year of our Lord sixteen hundred and ninety-two, is true?"

"Yes, Reverend, I am sure."

"Do you attest to these words of yours as being spoken truly from the heart and the mind, with no intent to do damage to others, but only to speak truth?"

"Yes, Reverend."

"And ye will not recant later?"

"I'll not recant, Reverend."

"Nor have second thoughts?"

"I have had all my second thoughts, Reverend. And more. I am done with my doubts now." (23.11-18)

Susanna, you've got this. When Reverend Pike has Susanna swear that her story about Ann Putnam and the lying girls is true, she's all guts. This girl has been deciding not to tell anyone over and over again, but this time she's not wavering one bit. She sure has come a long way from the start of the book. How do you think her decision-making has changed over time? Are all the changes good?

So, then, who would believe me? Joseph and Elizabeth, yes. But Father was still in danger. The magistrates had widened their search for him to include Boston. And there was Mary to think about. I did not care for myself, but I could not risk the girls crying out on Mary. Let alone brother William when he returned. So I kept my silence. The time for speaking out would come, I told myself. And when it did come, I would know it. (16.20)

Susanna sure is putting a lot of thought into her decisions, and so far she's deciding not to out the tormented chicks as liars. Whether or not we agree with her, she's certainly taking oodles of things into consideration. Just check out how she goes step by step through her thought process—it's almost like she has a mental checklist that helps her make her choice.

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