A Break with Charity Summary

Ann Rinaldi

A Break with Charity

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A Break with Charity Summary

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A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials is a historical novel for middle-grade readers, written by Ann Rinaldi and first published in 1992 as part of Gulliver Books’ Great Episodes series. The story centers on Susanna English, a girl in Salem, Massachusetts, who gets mixed up in the witch hysteria and subsequent trials of 1692.

The story opens in 1706. Susanna is sitting in the church she used to attend as a young girl. She has come, along with many others, to hear a public apology from Ann Putnam. Ann was the ringleader of the witchcraft accusations that tore Salem Village—and the Colonies—apart over a decade ago. As Susanna waits with the other townspeople, she reflects on her own role in the witch trials.

The novel flashes back to 1691. Susanna longs to be accepted into what she perceives to be the popular group of girls who assemble at the Reverend Parris’s parsonage whenever he is away. Behind closed doors, the girls dabble in witchery and spell-conjuring with the help of Tituba, the Parris family’s Barbadian slave.

Though Susanna is never invited into the girls’ inner circle, she does befriend Tituba. She tells Tituba about her brother, William English, a sailor currently out at sea. As she gains Tituba’s confidence, she learns what the girls are doing—and that some of them are now acting as if they’re possessed. The girls’ odd behavior is quickly noticed, and the villagers’ fears of witchery envelop Salem in widespread panic.

Susanna, convinced the girls are faking, goes to Ann and asks her to drop the act. It is, after all, a very dangerous game Ann and the other girls are playing. But Ann is obstinate. She explains to Susanna that by faking the symptoms of being possessed by witches, the girls are getting out of chores and gaining the attention and sympathy of the community. She doesn’t care if she has to accuse innocent people of witchcraft in the process. Then, she threatens Susanna: if Susanna reveals that the girls are faking, Ann will name the English family as witches. Susanna must stay silent to save her family.

While most of the town, including Susanna’s crush, Johnathan, believe that witches have overtaken Salem, there are still some rational villagers left. Susanna’s parents, as well as her sister, Mary, know that witchcraft is nonsense. Eventually, Johnathan comes around, seeing the rational side of things.

One day, Susanna’s mother defends the sister of an accused witch; the act of support compels the authorities to arrest Mrs. English. Soon after, they arrest Mr. English too. Susanna and Mary go to stay with family friends Joseph and Elizabeth Putnam. Once Mr. and Mrs. English are released from jail, they go to Boston with Mary, but Susanna elects to stay behind on the off-chance she can reveal the girls’ secret and put an end to all the witch madness.

Meanwhile, a new governor has been installed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A firm believer in witchcraft, he wants to legally implement harsh punishments for those accused of witchery. Courts begin hearing cases of accused witches, and many hang for their (nonexistent) crimes.

Once the hangings start, Susanna tells Joseph the truth of the girls’ behavior. Friends with some powerful judges, Joseph urges Susanna to tell them what she knows. She is hesitant, however, because there is a rumor circulating that a witch named Mary Bradbury tried to destroy William’s ship out at sea. Susanna seems to be starting to believe in witches herself until she meets with Mary and realizes that the rumor was just an attempt to get her to stay quiet.

With the trials—and hangings—continuing, Susanna goes to Reverend Pike and an influential merchant named Thomas Brattle, telling them the truth about the supposed witches in Salem. They use their power in the community to speak out boldly against the injustices being committed. They inspire others to feel safe and to openly condemn the witch hunts, too, and the trials and killings come to an end. William returns home from sea, but the village of Salem is forever changed. Nineteen innocent people died because they refused to confess to something of which they were not guilty. Their sacrifice, as well as the deadly power of mass hysteria, forever alters the fabric of Salem—and a nation still in its infancy.

Back in 1706, Susanna witnesses Ann’s apology to the assembled congregation. Understandably, Susanna is still upset about all the chaos and discord Ann wrought. But at the same time, she knows that holding onto the pain of the past won’t serve anyone. Susanna decides to forgive Ann and move forward with her life, which includes living happily ever after with Johnathan.