Study Guide

A Break With Charity Compassion and Forgiveness

By Ann Rinaldi

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Compassion and Forgiveness

Prologue

Beg forgiveness, indeed! After fourteen years! I see no purpose to it. The dead are dead; those who remain behind cannot forget. But then, just as I am about to close my heart against Ann, I recollect my part in the madness that came to our village in 1692. And I know I am as guilty as Ann or any of the girls in that circle of accusers.

[…]

The congregation that has assembled all around me while I sit here will forgive her, I know. All of them will forgive her. Even the kinsmen of Rebecca Nurse and the family of Martha and Giles Cory. And all of John and Elizabeth Proctor's children. All those who were most wronged will forgive her and welcome her back into the congregation.

But who will forgive me? (Prologue.16, 21-22)

Susanna is having a hard time letting go of her anger at Ann Putnam—and we don't really blame her—but if there's one person Susanna is really mad at, it's herself. Do you think Susanna forgives herself for her part in the witch trials? Or do you think she feels guilty throughout?

"I will go, but I will not forgive Ann Putnam. You cannot ask me to do that, husband," I told him. And I wonder, now that I am here, how I can look on her face again without seeing the faces of all whom she destroyed. (Prologue.9)

When this book starts, Susanna sure isn't in a forgiving mood. In her mind, Ann did a horrible thing and that's that—just check out Susanna's tone when she tells her husband that she won't forgive Ann. It looks like our girl Susanna isn't about to budge anytime soon.

Chapter 3

She accepted my gifts in wonderment. The lines on her face softened. And the wrinkles wreathed a smile.

[…]

I got back into the cart and guided Molasses down the rest of English Street. The cart was much lighter now, for it was empty.

As for my heart, it was lighter, too. But it was also very full of good feeling. I don't care if Mama does scold, I told myself. Giving all those things to Sarah Good was worth it. (3.57, 60-61)

Susanna knows that compassion can be hard to come by in Salem—in fact, when it comes to Sarah Good, most Puritans don't want to be kind at all. But our gal Susanna decides to be kind as all get-out when she gives Sarah all the goods in her cart. Just take a look at how happy Sarah is. And how good Susanna feels. Looks like being kind is worth a little trouble in the first place.

Chapter 12

"Sarah was in sore need of solace, since her sister has been named a witch. And what did our congregation do? They shunned her!"

"Oh, Mama, how terrible," I said.

"They moved away from her and left her alone in her pew. I could not bear it, so I bade Mary stay in our pew and went to sit beside her. I held her hand. She was trembling."

[…]

"'Friend of witches,' they hissed at me when I left," Mama recounted. "Oh, I shall never forget it." (12.70-72, 77)

Mama English is the queen of compassion. She knows that the whole town will judge her for being nice to Sarah Cloyce, but does that stop her? No way. She takes a stand in front of everybody. Sure, it makes her pretty upset, but she knows what she's done is worth the risk. What do you think of Mama E's compassion?

Chapter 13

"I fear the other girls in the circle will make a mockery of me when I testify," Mary confided. She sat in the chair and broke into weeping.

I went to put my arm around her. She gripped my hand. […]

Johnathan and I stayed with Mary in that room above the tavern. We quieted her and promised we would be in court. (13.25-27)

Susanna and Johnathan know that Mary Warren is super scared about standing up to the circle of lying girls, and they try to comfort her. We have to admit: this is pretty big of Susanna. Mary is part of the group that is accusing Mama English of being a friend of witches and Susanna still supports her—now that's seriously kind.

Chapter 14

I drew in my breath sharply. It felt like a knife in my chest. "Is there no heart left in you to appeal to, Ann?"

I meant it. If there was the smallest chance that I could humble myself before her, I would do it. I would do it for Mama. Though I loathed this girl thoroughly.

"My heart is pure," she insisted. "I rest assured that we are giving our ministers and magistrates and elders what they crave." (14.65-67)

Ann is pretty evil, for sure, but Susanna still tries her luck to see if she can spark a little kindness in this lying lass. No luck there, since Ann thinks she's on the right path. Do you think Ann believes she's acting out of compassion? How so?

Chapter 15

We went once that week to see Mama in Salem Prison. It was such a terrible place that Mary and I wept openly. But Mama was so busy attending to the other women that she could not abide our tears. (15.84)

Mama English sure is a strong lady. She's been called a witch, locked up in prison, and basically shamed in front of the whole town, but does she get down about it? No sirree. Even when she's locked up, Mama E helps everyone out around her. How do you think her daughters take after her? Are they as compassionate and kind as their mama? And how are they different?

Chapter 19

His stony silence persisted. I stood up. "I will leave your home, Joseph, if you wish."

His scowl became even more forbidding. "Did I say I wished such?"

"No. But I cannot stay under your roof if you cannot forgive me."

[…]

"We cannot allow ourselves such feelings—I, my anger, or you, your self-pity. You have come to me now. I expressed my anger at what I perceived to be your lack of trust. You say such was not the case. Very well, I choose to believe you. I will put my anger aside and ask you to forgive it. (19.83-85, 88)

Susanna has come clean to Joseph and now we've got feelings up the wazoo in the Putnam house. Susanna is super guilty, Joseph is pretty peeved… but they both decide to be the better person and do some good old-fashioned forgiving. We're pretty impressed that they can move on so quickly. And Joseph is matter-of-fact about the whole thing—he knows they need to move forward, and forgiveness is the way to do that.

Chapter 22

He unrolled the parchment. "Here ninety-three neighbors have put their names," he said, "to declare that in half a century in the town of Salisbury, Mary Bradbury has never been known to make trouble, that she is a devout woman, a good wife of Thomas, and mother of eleven upstanding children."

I let my eyes wander over the petition. When I again raised them to Mary, she smiled at me. Tears slid down my face. I embraced her.

"Forgive me," I said. (22.53-55)

Mary Bradbury has been accused of being a witch, and Susanna was starting to believe the tall tale; lucky for Sus though, Mary Bradbury is a forgiving lady. She's also sweet as can be and has oodles of neighbors on her side—just take a look at how many folks signed a petition for Mary. Since most people who speak out in favor of the accused witches get called witches themselves, this is a truly brave thing to do. Looks like there's a lot more compassion in Massachusetts than Susanna thought.

Epilogue

With my free hand I reach out to her. She takes it in her own fragile one. Her hand is so cold!

[…]

"You forgive me, then? I am near death's door. The Devil has already picked my bones. I'll never have husband or children to hold close to me."

I feel something give inside me, like a great wall collapsing. And it comes to me that the hate I bore her all these years was more fearful than the person I was supposed to be hating. I can barely say the words. My heart is so full. "Yes, Ann, I forgive you." (Epilogue.47, 52-53)

It's been a long road for Susanna and Ann, but they've finally found some forgiveness. Ann sure is in a rough state these days, and Susanna knows that it's time to let go of her hate. What do you think helps Susanna forgive Ann here? And do you think Susanna ever forgives herself, too? We sure hope so.

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