Study Guide

A Break With Charity Women and Femininity

By Ann Rinaldi

Women and Femininity

Prologue
Susanna English

So I said, "Yes, I will go," though in my heart I will never understand why we women are always assigned the task of peacemaking. "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)

Right off the bat we know that gender is going to be important in this book—according to Susanna women are the mayhem-makers and the peacemakers in Salem. Ann Putnam wreaked havoc back in the day, and now that it's fourteen years later, Susanna feels like she is expected to bring peace to her community all because she is female. This places Susanna in a pretty tough spot.

Chapter 2

"Of course, some of the girls are no longer children. Yet they are not allowed to be women. They are not married. There is no place for them in this way of life here. Except to do hard work or study scriptures. Their hopes and desires die on the vine. This turns them inward. They are seeking ways out of themselves. So they come to Tituba." (2.58)

Tituba has a theory about the teenager girls in Salem: they're not girls, but they're not really women either. Sounds like these lasses are in limbo, and Tituba thinks this limbo is why Ann and her clique are visiting her for magic dealings. What do you think about Tituba's theory? Does it sound like these young women have "no place" in Salem to call their own?

Chapter 4

"Where have you been?" Mary whispered. "Here I've been sewing all afternoon, and you've been out sporting. You sly fox."

I heaped my plate with wild venison stew, corn bread, and boiled clams, then filled a small bowl with sallet herbs. "Stitching your dowry again, no doubt," I teased. "I know you love to dream your way through the afternoon, sister. Is Thomas coming to call?" (4.5-6)

Susanna's sister Mary is quite the lady. During the day, she spends her time doing the proper things for a well-off merchant's daughter back in the day, a.k.a. sewing a lot. And the fact that Mary is getting ready to get engaged soon means she's also preparing to be a wife, another expected role for women back in colonial times. Yep, while Susanna is out stirring up trouble with Tituba, Mary is doing super feminine stuff… But keep an eye out, because Mary is also a strong gal, too.

Chapter 6

I knew what concerned our magistrates and why the Hobbses were so fearful for Abigail. Women who read books, who wrote their thoughts on parchment, did not honor their fathers or ministers. They were considered dangerous. It went back to the time of Anne Hutchinson. (6.21-22)

It might tough to believe, but books were considered dangerous for a long time. (They still are—just check out this banned books list.) And in Salem, reading a book as a woman was a major no-no. What do you think it is about a woman reading that scared people so much?

I'd learned, too, that I was not the only one dissatisfied with our way of life in Salem. Abigail Hobbs was trying to escape its suffocating effects. And, if I were to be truly honest with myself, so were the girls in the circle. (6.108)

It looks like all the girls in Salem have something in common—Susanna finds it tough to be a gal, and it turns out Abigail feels the same way. They both want some freedom and we can't blame them. Susanna even calls the climate in Salem "suffocating," so that tells us she feels super constrained there. The fact that the lying girls also want to find some freedom means that these gals are all in the same boat. Susanna may not like it, but they're all going through the same struggles of being a dudette in a dude's world.

Again Abigail laughed. "All girls 'twixt twelve and twenty are witches, don't you know that? How else can we accomplish our goal of becoming women?" (6.99)

Abigail has a theory about teenage ladies: they're basically witches. Whoa, hold up Abs—that's a pretty bold thing to say, especially in a witch-hating town like Salem. She believes that going from a girl to a woman takes a type of witchcraft, and we know Abigail doesn't really mean riding on broomsticks. So what do you think she's referring to when she calls girls witches? What about the transition from girl to woman requires so-called witchcraft back in the day?

Chapter 9

"Why should the girls have all the sport? Can't young men be possessed by witches, too?"

"John!"

"These girls will be known throughout the colony before this is over. They will hold sway over learned men. Well, I'm bound to have some of that power, Susanna. I'm weary of working hard and being passed over as nothing." (9.84-86)

Back in the day women didn't have much institutional power, which means that they weren't allowed to hold political office or to lead a church. But the afflicted girls have found a way to be super powerful, and now John Dorich is jealous. It's pretty rare back in colonial times to have girls with so much power that a dude is jealous. What do you think about how these ladies flipped the tables? Is there anything good about their power or is it all bad?

Chapter 18

"Aye. But I've cast my lot with them because I choose to live. And not swing from a tree. I have no man, and that means no power. I'm poor, an old hag. No one listens to my mumblings. I'm sensible of such. I've no fancy to be cried out on." (18.46)

Goody Bibber is in a tough spot—since she's a single gal, she doesn't have any real power at all. Just take a look at how she says no one listens to her. Back in the day women were considered weak and in need of a man for protection, and Goody Bibber knows that's exactly what Salem thinks about her. She figures that since she doesn't have a guy to keep her safe, she better hunker down with the next best thing: lying girls.

Chapter 22

She took my hand. "D'ye think I was indeed the witch on the windlass of Sam Endicott's ship? Child, let me tell ye, 'twas always my secret fancy to go to sea. I wished myself on every ship that left Salem Harbor. How I longed to be a man and visit such far-off places as they spoke of! But I tell ye now, were I a witch, I wouldn't plant myself on some old windlass. I'd be up there in the crow's nest seeing the world from that lofty height!" (22.28)

Sometimes Mary Bradbury wishes she were a dude. You see, back in the day men were allowed to become sailors and set out on voyages. But sit tight ladies of Salem, you're stuck on land. Mary wants to experience something new, and for a gal like her that means wishing she could be a guy instead of a girl.

Epilogue

I was the only woman on board on the outward bound voyage, and was very coddled. One fine day, I dressed in some of William's clothes and climbed up the mainmast to the crow's nest.

As I peered out across the calm waters, with the salt spray in my face and the wind blowing my hair, I whispered softly, "This is for you, Mary Bradbury. I do this for you." (Epilogue.14-15)

When Susanna is on a ship with her big bro, she's on cloud nine, and sitting in the crow's nest is icing on the cake. Did you notice how she puts on her bro's garb to make this climb? Why do you think she does this? We know Susanna thinks men have more freedoms than women. And now she gets to pretend like she is a man for just a little bit, which makes her super happy.

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