"coming to the broad, flat, armorial tombstone of a departed worthy,—perhaps Isaac Johnson himself,—she began to dance upon it"
Illustration from the 1893 edition
Public DomainIllustration from the 1893 edition - Credit: Frederick C. Gordon
Witches dancing in a graveyard (1911)
Public DomainWitches dancing in a graveyard (1911) - Credit: Martin van Maële.

Though dancing on or around graves has featured in burial rites among certain Scottish, South Asian and African peoples, the New England Puritans would have regarded such a thing with abhorrence. Pearl’s tomb-top jig is both a blasphemous rejection of religious proprieties and a signal of her contempt for the entire colony and its hallowed history (Isaac Johnson was the first of the settlers to be buried in the soil of the new territory). It also aligns her with witches, who were supposed to dance on graves either to torment their occupants or to induce them to burst out into the land of the living.