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Salem Witch Trial Essay

1193 words - 5 pages

salem witch trial

This is about witchcraft and is started like this: In the winter of 1691-92, several people in Salem Village, most of them young women, but eventually including a few men and boys, began behaving in a "strange & unusual manner”, with an affect which was interpreted as illness. The town's minister, Samuel Parris, whose daughter and niece were among those with this odd affect, sought to cure the perceived problem with prayer; others, including a doctor of physic who was called in, felt that the people in question were afflicted with a witch's supernatural curse, and this diagnosis came to be accepted as true. Friends and relatives prompted the "afflicted" people to name their supposed tormentors. On 29 February 1691/92, after over a month of acting oddly, the "afflicted" named three local women as "witches." One of these women, a slave of Mr. Parris named Tituba, said, when questioned, that she was a witch, that the two others arrested were witches, and that there were two other women and a man "from Boston" involved. Shrewdly or luckily, Tituba had realized that the best thing she could do in her situation was to tell the investigators what they wanted to hear.

Thus the diagnosis -- of affliction by witches -- was "proven" to be correct, and at the same time the extent of the perceived problem expanded from three to who knew how many.

The strange affect of Parris's children and an increasing number of others continued, and these "afflicted" continued to supply names of supposed "witches." By the end of the year there were "about Fifty persons" with the affect of being afflicted, nineteen people and two dogs had been hung for "witchcraft," another had been tortured to death, five had died in prison from lack of proper food or shelter, and the jails were full with those awaiting trial.

In 1768, Hutchinson published the first history of this witch panic. He considered "whether the afflicted were under bodily distempers, or altogether guilty of fraud and imposture”, and decided in favor of fraud. In 1831 Charles Upham agreed: the afflicted had acted with "a malicious disposition to wreak vengeance upon enemies" In 1867, however, Upham was less certain: it was "almost beyond belief that they were wholly actuated by deliberate and cold-blooded malignancy" and it was hard to say "how much may be attributed to such 'bodily distempers' ascredulity, hallucination, and the delirium of excitement”. In 1949, Marion Starkey had no doubts: the afflicted's odd affect was entirely due to psychological 'distempers,' and she offered a pop-Freudian diagnosis of "hysteria”. In 1969, Hansen agreed with Starkey that the afflicted had been hysterical, presenting his view with the scholarship and language of the academy.

Starkey's "hysterical bobbysoxers" diagnosis has entered the popular canon and school textbooks, while Hansen's verdict of "hysterical in the scientific sense of that term” has been accepted as true by the majority of...

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