%22Was the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria a Product of Women’s Search for Power?”.docx

This preview shows page 1 - 2 out of 17 pages.

YES: Lyle Koehler argues that the Salem witchcraft hysteria is best understood from the perspective of differential relationships in a patriarchal Puritan society whereby the female accusers of “witches” exercised an unconscious search for power to overcome their own subordination in a rapidly changing world. (Lyle Koehler, from A Search for Power: The “Weaker Sex” in Seventeenth-Century New England, University of Illinois, 1980.) NO: Laurie Winn Carlson believes that the witchcraft hysteria in Salem was the product of people’s responses to physical and neurological behaviors resulting from an unrecognized epidemic of encephalitis. (Laurie Winn Carlson, from A Fever in Salem: A New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials, Ivan R. Dee, 1999.) Although an interest in the occult, including witchcraft and devil worship, exists in modern society, for most of us the images of witches are confined to our television and movie screens or perhaps to the theatrical stage where a Shakespearean tragedy is being performed. We can watch the annual presentation of The Wizard of Oz and reruns of Bewitched or hear the cries of “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble” in a scene from Macbeth, with as little concern for the safety of our souls as we exhibit when black-garbed, broomstick-toting children appear on our doorsteps at Halloween. But such was not always the case. Prehistoric paintings on the walls of caves throughout Europe, from Spain to Russia, reveal that witchcraft was of immediate and serious concern to many of our ancestors. The most intense eruptions in the long history of witchcraft, however, appeared during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the British North American colonies, there were over 100 witchcraft trials in seventeenth-century New England alone, and 40 percent of those accused were executed. For most Americans the events that began in the kitchen of the Reverend Samuel Parris in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 are the most notorious. A group of young girls, with the assistance of Parris’s West Indian slave, Tituba, were attempting to see into the future by “reading” messages in the white of a raw egg they had suspended in a glass. The tragic results of this seemingly innocent diversion scandalized the Salem community and reverberated all the way to Boston. One of the participants insisted she saw the specter of a coffin in the egg white, and soon after, the girls began to display the hysterical symptoms of the possessed. Following intense interrogation by adults, Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne were accused of practicing magic and were arrested. Subsequently, Tituba confessed her guilt and acknowledged the existence of other witches but refused to name them. Accusations spread as paranoia enveloped the community.

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture