Study Guide

A Break With Charity Memory and the Past

By Ann Rinaldi

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Memory and the Past


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.


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. (Prologue.23, 25)

Sometimes Susanna sure is overcome by the past—her memories even have a physical effect on her, and she says they make her "tremble." What do you think makes these memories so powerful? And is this power a good thing or a bad thing?

Chapter 7

Mama sighed. "Ann Putnam, senior, still blames people hereabouts for her sister's death. As well as for the babes she herself lost before she had little Ann."

"I didn't know she had children before Ann."

"A number. All dead. Like her older sister's. Instead of thanking the Lord she has Ann, she's made the child into a miniature of herself." (7.50-52)

Ann Putnam Sr. can't get over the past, and in some ways, we can't blame her—after all, she's had some super rough experiences. But her feelings about the past are causing some serious problems in present-day Salem.

Chapter 9
Mary English (a.k.a. Mama E)

"Is there trouble, Joseph?" Mama was never one to shilly-shally about things.

"I feel the hysteria connected with this witch business will get worse before it abates. It is fed on distrust in our community, on old quarrels between neighbors."

"Then it is well fed before it starts," Mama said. (9.10-12)

If you're looking for the origin of the witch hullabaloo, you're gonna have to go farther back in time than this book does—folks have been fighting in Salem for a long time. Keep an eye out to see if the town finds a way to escape its past by the end of the book.

Chapter 17

I do not much ponder the farewell. But it still comes to the front of my mind at night when I hear owls calling to each other in the loneliness. Or when I catch the scent of the marshes. When that happens, I can still feel Mama's or Mary's arms around me, hear Mary's sobs as we drew apart, hear Father's voice break as it did when he tried to conceal his painful feelings.

I can, to this day, conjure up in an instant their whispered reassurances that we would soon meet again, the promises they wrung from me regarding my safety. (17.64-65)

It stinks that Susanna has to say goodbye to her family when her parents and sis head to Boston, and it's a memory our girl is not going to forget any time soon. What's cool is that her memory is tied to sounds and smells. Did you notice how "the scent of the marshes" makes her think of this memory? We're thinking if she wants to forget this tidbit from her past, she better move to a desert or something.

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)

Goody Bibber totally remembers her chat with Susanna way back in the day. And she remembers that Susanna saw what she saw happening in that parsonage. Most of the time, Susanna wants to forget what she knows about Ann and the circle of lying girls, but Goody Bibber sure doesn't want Susanna to lose that memory. And she's giving Susanna a super creepy way for her to remember their shared past.

Chapter 23

And that year I had the additional good feeling of knowing that if life in Salem were ever to be good again, I had had a part in making it so.

But side by side with that thought was the guilt I felt at realizing that people might be alive if I had spoken out sooner. I could not enjoy one feeling without suffering the other. And so, when the witch madness ended, finally, like everyone else in Salem I was left with self recriminations, which stay with me always. (23.75-76)

The Salem witch trials are almost over and part of Susanna is stoked… but then there's that nagging part of her that's bummed and ashamed, too. She says she has "recriminations" (a.k.a. blame) toward herself, so we know that she definitely feels guilty. Do you think things would actually have turned out differently if she'd spoken up sooner?


"Perhaps, if you go and stand with your neighbors, you will manage to forget," Johnathan told me before I came here today.

Forget? I think I never will. Nor will the others assembled here now. How can we ever forget how the community was torn asunder, how smashed and ruined houses of some accused were left to the wind and the wolves? How businesses went bad because outsiders refused to have dealings with those in Salem for years afterward? (Epilogue.19-20)

When Susanna is back in the Salem Meetinghouse she wants to move on, but she's got oodles of bad memories about the witch trials, and they keep creeping up on her. Susanna seems pretty convinced that she'll never forget the past. How is it a good thing that Susanna can't forget? Are there any downsides?

Mulling over the whole matter as I sit in church waiting for Ann Putnam to appear, I mind how painful it is to recollect the events of those days. But once we allow memory to open its floodgates, we are hard put to stop its flow. (Epilogue.1)

Looks like Susanna is at the mercy of memory these days, and whether or not she wants to remember Ann and all the kerfuffles she caused, Susanna just can't help herself. Though a good deal of the remembering is hard, at least she's got her mom in the memory mix too.

"Do you recollect that day we stood on the wharf in Salem Harbor when William came home?"
He scowls at me. Then he smiles. "You mean the name on the schooner?"

"Yes. Remember how we both stared, spellbound, at it?"

"The Amiable Tiger. Aye," Johnathan says. And he shakes his head and laughs. "Just as Sam Endicott said it would be. But we did promise we'd never speak of it, Susanna. Why give it mention now, after all these years?" (Epilogue.63-66)

Susanna and Johnathan both have a memory that they just can't shake: when they saw that William came home on the Amiable Tiger, they were pretty freaked out. After all, Sam said a witch had told him that she would be harassing the Amiable Tiger to avenge Susanna's big bro, and while Johnathan and Susanna don't want to believe in witchcraft, they also can't forget this story. Looks like some memories definitely have a hard time dying off for these two.

I am a stranger in this church. Indeed, I have not been here since spring of 1692, so long ago now that it seems but a dim memory, and the girl I was at that time seems certainly like another person. Me and yet not me, that young girl. For she was as innocent to the dangers around her as my own baby daughter who now sleeps peacefully in my arms.

Another world it was back then, although most of us hereabouts live with some mark of the events of that time still upon us. (Prologue.2-3)

Geez—it's only the first few paragraphs of the book and already the past is looking pretty rocky for Susanna English. It sounds like Susanna has two ways of dealing with the past here. On the one hand, she feels like the spring of 1692 is super far away—just take a look at how she talks of her "young girl" self as totally different from her grown-up self. But on the other hand, Susanna carries the past around with her all the time—notice how she talks about the past as if it is a physical "mark."

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