Mama would want to know why I had returned with my cargo. And so it was that I determined to lie.
I was not practiced in the art of dissembling ,the word given to such a sin. There had been no need in my life, up until now, to keep any of my doings from my parents. But in the next few months I was to learn the art of dissembling well. (3.2-3)
We're going to hear tons about dissembling (a fancy word for lying) in this book—characters are dissembling all over the place, and Susanna is part of the pack. This is her first little dissemble, but things are about to get carried away—dissembling is everywhere in this book, and Susanna's no exception.
Mary English (a.k.a. Mama E)
"Did you deliver all my offerings for the poor?" Mama asked.
"They are all delivered, Mama." It was no lie. They were. (4.22, 24)
Susanna doesn't want to lie to her mama, but she doesn't want to tell her the whole truth either. You see, Susanna gave all her mom's offerings to Sarah Good… so she's not technically lying, but she's also not giving her mom all the details. Susanna is letting us know early on that it's easy to fudge the line between truth and lies. Do you think Susanna is acting deceitfully here?
"The elders are looking for someone to blame. We will give them many someones."
"You will give forth the names of people as witches? When you know you girls are not really afflicted?"
"We will, and the elders will be glad to know that the cause of the bickering and trouble in this place lies not at their own feet but is the fault of witches living amongst us." (8.26-28)
Ann is gearing up to tell a huge lie: she's going to tell the town leaders that there are witches in Salem. Susanna knows that this lie can really hurt people, so she's pretty upset, but lying just doesn't seem to be a problem to Ann. Note her tone here—she's calm and confident as can be.
"Oh, dear God!" I murmured. Then an idea came to me. "Tituba, tomorrow you can tell the truth to the magistrates."
"Tituba want no more beatings."
"They won't beat you."
"Tituba's master will, if Tituba tell truth. He don't want it known his little daughter and niece are lying."
"Does he know they are lying?"
"He never think this. He know only that Tituba make disaster. He want to believe Tituba is to blame. Others need to think so, also. So Tituba will give them what they need to know." (11.16-21)
When it comes to Tituba, she starts lying to save her life—Reverend Parris won't stop beating her until she says she's a witch, so that's just what she does. What do you think of this? Reverend Parris sure has backed Tituba into a corner.
"Why did you not come forth sooner?" I asked.
"I was caught in a whirlwind. I come forth now to save my master. I am his jade." This in itself was a confession, and I wondered if she would say such words in court. Did she indeed fancy herself in love with John Proctor? Had she had a sinful dalliance with him in his house? Was that why she had named his wife as a witch? To be rid of her? I had heard that Elizabeth Proctor was again with child.
"I love him," she said, answering my unspoken question. (13.12-14)
Mary Warren used to be part of the circle of lying girls. But the tides have changed, Shmoopers, and now this gal is all about truth-telling. Gosh, she's even telling the truth about things that could really get her in trouble, like having a little crush on her master. What do you think of this quick switch from lies to truth?
"Of course," she answered, "Why should we not? Do you think we take this charge from the Lord lightly?"
"It started as sport, I reminded her. "The last time we spoke you said you had accepted the diagnosis of the evil hand on you to get attention."
"We were not sensible yet of what was happening with us. We thought it sport. But when we name people, they confess to horrible doings we do not even accuse them of. And when an accused witch confesses, a great peace comes over us."
I looked from Ann to Mercy. "You have become enamored with your own lies," I said. They both shrugged. (14.57-61)
Uh-oh—now Salem is in big trouble. Earlier in the book, Ann and her gaggle of gal pals thought they were lying just for fun, and though it wasn't funny at all, at least they knew they were lies. Now Ann and her posse have totally flipped the switch, and they're convinced they're doing the right thing. Do you notice a change in Ann's demeanor in this passage? Does she seem to view the accusations differently? Or do you think she's still just as evil as ever?
Then I thought of Mary Warren, who had tried to recant her testimony. I pondered how the magistrates had badgered her. Finally she broke. Denying that her original testimony had been false, she started talking about shapes hovering over her again. The magistrates were happy. They announced that she was cleansed of her sin, and she rejoined the circle.
So, then, who would believe me? (16.19-20)
Poor Mary Warren. When she wants to tell the truth about the tormented girls's lies, she just gets bullied back into the group. It's almost like the town doesn't want to know the truth. Did you notice how violently Mary is treated before she reverts back to lying? Susanna tells us that she is "badgered" until she "broke"—now that's some intense bullying. Looks like telling the truth doesn't get a girl anywhere in this town.
"Go now, Goody Bibber, or I'll tell my father what you've said this day."
She cackled again. "And what is that, lad?"
"That you dissemble. To save your own skin."
"Many do, lad. Many do. Tell him and I'll deny it. He'll believe me. The magistrates have given us this power." (18.48-51)
Johnathan doesn't like that Goody Bibber is getting away with lying, but the J-man can't do a thing about it—Goody Bibber and the other lying girls have lots of power in this town. And since the judges seem to like what they hear about witches, no one wants to tell the truth. What do you think of Goody's choice to join the lying gals? Do you think it's all about saving herself, or is there more to it?
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)
Susanna has practiced telling the truth to Joseph, but she's still having doubts; and now that she's worried Mary Bradbury might really be a witch, she's ready to keep silent again. Do you think Susanna's silence when she knows the truth is similar to a lie? How is it different? One thing is for sure, Susanna is starting to believe the lies going around Massachusetts, and that's not cool.
She is done up nicely, in the whitest of caps and shawls. But I do not trust her motives. I never will. They say she would seek communion in this church again. I'll wager that's the only reason for her being here. (Epilogue.30)
When Susanna is in her old meetinghouse in 1706, she still thinks Ann Putnam is a liar. It doesn't matter that Ann is wearing spiffy clothes or that she's about to make a public apology—to Susanna, this girl is deceitful and that's that. What do you think of Susanna's skepticism about Ann's motives? Do you think Ann is just as deceitful as ever?