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Genderising The Salem Witchhunt (Feminist Piece) Paul Boyer And Stephen Nissenbaum's Salem Possessed And The Devil In The Shape Of A Woman By Carol Karlsen

1039 words - 4 pages

This paper will discuss and contrast the works of both Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum's Salem Possessed and The Devil in the Shape of a Woman by Carol Karlsen. These papers contrast in their reasoning behind the Salem trials and the subsequent timing of it in 1692. It must be clear that whilst Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum's discuss a whole series of mitigating factors that leads to the trials in Salem the authors do not pay homage to the struggle of feminism in the Puritan society of Salem nor the impact of such a struggle on the timing and result of the Salem trials in 1692."The story of witchcraft is primarily the story of women "Karlsen's "The devil in the shape of a woman" attempts to lay emphasis on the trials as one that highlights the wider role of gender inequality and the feminine power struggle that results in the trials at Salem. Karlsen specifically tackles the role of gender bias in Salem as a major theme in the timing and mind-set of the Salem trial. For instance Karlsen brings female sexuality to the fore of her argument and its increasing weight moving towards the end of the 18th Century."Poor white women were viewed as embodying many characteristics of the witch: they were increasingly portrayed as seductive sexually uncontrolled and threatening to the social and moral order "For Karlsen, the witch trials were a violent struggle within women as well as an equally ambivalent but violent struggle against women. For Karlsen it culminates in the Salem Trials of 1692 but its origins lay in the history of Salem and its culture. Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum suggest that it is part of a much broader economic and social picture . This macro analysis of the problem denies the specific elements that led to the trials within Salem.Puritan Ideology is a factor in the timing and reasoning behind the trials. Such religious ideology expressed the hierarchical system and subsequently the conscious degradation of a woman's role in society. Previous to the trials, discussions such as a woman's ability to speak in town meetings, church and to participate in hymns as not to offend the ear of God were of serious consideration in the 1660's and 70's . It is apparent that such inequality was endemic to preceding the Salem Trials in 1692.Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum's Salem Possessed examines social and economic divisions within the Salem Village and Town from a historical context, as an entry point to understanding the accusations of witchcraft in 1692. Boyer and Nissenbaum argue that it is political factionalism and an ever-changing economy (an agricultural and mercantilist divide) as a steady process that aided the conditions for the trials of Salem via the examination of the time period of 1639-87 . Nissenbaum's examination of local records reveals the shape of communal life in New England and provides a more complex model through which to understand the witchcraft accusations as part of a larger pattern of communal strife . This...

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