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Salem Witch Trials

.. le were involved in a Satanic plot. This search might be seen as a negative mirror of the search for clues that one was saved. In the film The Burning Times, some of the clues that were seen included strange marks on the body (e.g. birthmarks and extra nipples – which were considered witches teats used to suckle demons). More controversial was spectral evidence. The afflicted girls and some male witnesses said that they had seen spectres (normally invisible spirits) of the accused either in the courtroom or at other times, and that these spectras tried to cause harm to them.

These actions included choking, frightening or tormenting them. No doubt, some of those who confessed, and their lives were spared, were able to justify confessing on the ground that their spectras might have done things of which they were not aware. A book that discusses much of what occurred in Salem called Salem Possessed, attempts to explain the witch craze primarily in sociological, political, and economic terms. It also uses some means of Theological and Psychological views to explain the occurances (3). Boyer and Nissenbaum suggest that Salem was in a state of some transformation at the time of the witch trials.

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Several ministers had left Salem as a result of factionalism in the village of Salem. Minister Samuel Parris, in 1962, was involved in several disputes over his salary, the ownership of his home, his supply of firewood, and many other things. Boyer and Nissenbaum go on to tell that they believe the core of the trouble was a tension between the Salem town and the Salem village. From what one can capture from Salem Possessed, is the idea that it is possible that the whole situation was taken too far. Since Parris obviously had some enemies, when the problems with his daughter arouse, people found that this was a way to get back at Parris. Instead, it actually got back at the entire town. People who were not anti-Parris, were not aware the rumors about the girls were not all true. Instead, the other residents of the town panicked, and started pointing fingers at everyone.

One of the earliest people to be arrested, and eventually hung was Bridget Bishop, who ran an unliscenced cider shop out of her home in Salem village. Boyer and Nissenbaum that there were personal enmities, based on land ownership and inheritance in Salem Village and neighboring towns. There was a general potential for schism between those parts of the village near Salem town vs. the area further away from the town. The authors of Salem Possessed note that most of the accused witches lived in the Salem town side of the village, while most of the accusers lived in the side that was further from town.

What finally stopped the witch craze was it’s spread beyond Salem, so that important people in Boston, the capital of Massachusetts Bay Colony, began to get accused. Even a famous figure Cotton Mather was named at one point, even though he was never formally charged. There was a breaking point however. This was when the governor’s wife was accused. The Governor then called an end to the trial.

Eventually everyone who was still in jail was released, and some compensation was paid to the survivors. Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, uses the Salem Witch Trials as a metaphor for the obsession in the U.S. during the 1950’s, with a vast, hidden communist conspiracy, threatening that all was good in America. (4). This suggestion is trying to show that the girls symptoms were interrupted as they were because of communism. The kinds of evidence that was used in the trials could also be looked at by this comment as writings of communism. Miller made certain alterations to his play for theatrical convince.

These alterations tell us something of the nature of recent witch hunts, as compared to those of the 17th century. The communist fear lead to many arrests and blacklisting. Indeed, many people who worked in industries such as the entertainment and media business, including Miller himself, did not have left-wing sympathies, but it is unlikely that many, or any, were actively working for the Soviet Union. Pressure was put on publishers and film studios to not allow suspected Communists to work. Arthur Miller himself, already a famous playwright, was at least partially blacklisted until he could prove that he was a normal American. One of the things that helped Miller prove this to the skeptical was that he married Marilyn Monroe.

Jewish intellectuals like Miller were automatically suspect, and given Miller’s history of divorces, his stand would not have been good. He, however, managed to get out of being blacklisted, primarily due to his marriage with Marilyn Monroe. Sexual conformity during the McCarthy era led Miller to exaggerate the sexual aspects of the Salem story , changing the ages of some of the characters to make sexual interpretations more credible. Sexual innuendoes were certainly not absent in Salem, but sexual politics were were just as present in the McCarthy era as they are today . As this topic was studied, at first I began to see comparisons between feminism and the witch trials of 1692.

A book by Frances Hill claims to be a feminist psychoanalytical reading of the events in Salem Village, 1692 (5). While this book began with the topic of women, it veered quickly from the topic, and did no more to prove that this is a feminism case, than it did to disprove it. Another book, by Carol Karlsen, is another attempt to show the relation to women and how they were treated, and how it relates to feminism (6). This book does show that the typical witch was: female, married (at least at one point in her life), without any sons, past childbearing stage, and related to, or friends of another accused witch. Once again, not enough conclusive evidence was given, so rather than further an idea, that might not be completely true, the conclusion of this paper is that women were no more picked out to be victims in these cases, than they were victimized everyday, in all situations.

The people Salem Village did not only pick women to be witches because they were women, rather because the prosecutors had a problem with either the woman, or indirect problems with her, through her family. Granted, these women were picked out for who they were, they were not just picked out because they were women. Works Cited (1.) Carlson, Laurie Winn. A Fever in Salem: A New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials. Ivan R. Dee.

Chicago. 1999. (2.) Hill, Frances. A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials. Doubleday: New York.

1995. (3.) Boyer, Paul and Nissenbaum, Stephen. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Harvard: Cambridge, MA. 1974. (4.) Burns, Margo. Twentieth Century New England with Special Emphasis on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

Online at (5.) Hill, Frances. A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials. Doubleday: New York. 1995. (6.) Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England.

Random House: New York. 1987. Sociology Essays.


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