In 1953, Arthur Miller composed a highly-charged work for the theater that struck its audiences as frighteningly relevant to the times. That play was called The Crucible, and its fictional examination of the Salem Witch trials has become a classic of American Theater. Miller's play was well named, for the Salem Witch trials still function as a crucible today, one in which historians can discover many different truths about American history. The complexities of that time and place have created a moment in history that can be examined over and over for fresh insights about the nature of our culture, our politics, our attitude towards women, etc. This paper's examination of the Salem Witch Trials will focus on the following questions, ones which have been a source of debate for historians over the last several decades. The first question is Why Salem Village? What was unique about Salem Village that caused such an outbreak of accusation? And why also did those accusations lead to so many executions, on a scale nearly unheard-of in the colonies?
[...] One final example of Hoffer's insight is his interpretation of the issues that faced the Massachusetts colony at the time of the Salem Witch Trials, and how that interpretation differs from Boyer and Nissenbaum's. The Massachusetts colony at the time of the trials was undergoing significant political upheaval. This had a certain material effect on the trials. For example, because the colony was without a charter in 1692, many of the witches languished in jail for far longer than they would have otherwise.[xlviii] While Boyer and Nissenbaum use that observation to inform their assessment of the trials, they do not make the connection between that upheaval and the fear of the Devil that it created. [...]
[...] Salem, the completely accidental arrival of a Barbados planter turned merchant turned lay preacher and his African-born Barbadian slave were the reasons the crisis took the form it did.”[xxii] His examination is narrow, but detailed, giving the reader insights into what Salem Village felt like in 1692. He mentions, for example, that Salem Village felt different that year because it was exceptionally cold.[xxiii] Reis also narrows the focus of the Salem Witch Trials, differentiating Salem Village from the other incidences of New England, but focusing more on how the women behaved there than why they behaved differently.[xxiv] Writing also in the 1990s, her details are not external but internal, and so she only gives cursory information about what made Salem stand out. [...]
[...] For example, Hoffer immediately presents the now self-evident truth that witchcraft prosecutions were created by men to persecute women.[lxv] He is also more than willing to admit that for women in that culture, “poverty was always just around the corner.”[lxvi] But while Karlsen sees the abuse of women in the possessed, Hoffer points to the abuse of girls.[lxvii] This may be a result of the increasing visibility of child abuse through the 1980s and 1990s. In addition, because of Hoffer's events-focused history, he tends to give credence to the most popular and respected theories of the day, and then continue with the For example, his description of the accusers: “Whether the girls began as mischievous innocents manipulated by parents and other adults or as victims of overbearing Puritan discipline, they soon had turned themselves . [...]
[...] Mather, and Salem Village, called it witchcraft.”[xxxi] Not so the Puritanism of John Demos. His view of the religion is one that had a great psychological impact on its followers, so strong that it might lead people to mistakenly believe in witchcraft. According to Demos, “They regarded themselves as participants in a cosmic struggle between the forces of God and of Satan for control of the universe.”[xxxii] Demos postulated that Puritanism caused such psychological disturbances because the stakes were so high. [...]
[...] and her family from a psychological perspective, postulating that the witchcraft accusations are a form of projection. Salem Possessed, 144-145. [xix] Carol Karlsen. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman Carol Karlsen. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman [xxi] Two examples of this new area of scholarly work are the citations of Linda Bissell's Ph.D. dissertation regarding social interaction in the 17th century in 1973 and Daniel Scott Smith's paper on inheritance and the position of colonial women presented at the Second Berkshire Conference on the History of Women in 1974. [...]
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