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The Salem Witch Trial - Brief History and Thoughts as to What Caused Them

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The Salem Witch Trials: A Brief History and Thoughts as to What Caused Them Christina Fleming Fall 2002 History 131 There are many theories as to what afflicted the girls of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, all very founded and well thought out, but there is still the more widely believed theory that the girls were lying and having a bit of fun that got out of hand. When historians, theologians and those of the medical profession try to find an answer, sometimes thoughts and ideas get out of hand and over analyzed, making them forget the plain and simple right there before them. During the winter of 1692, strange things began happening to the girls of Salem. The Reverend Samuel Parris' 9-year-old daughter Betty and 11-year-old niece Abigail began exhibiting irregular behaviors. The girls began slipping into trances, cowering in corners, muttering incoherent phrases, having horrific convulsive fits that made it seems almost as if their bones "were made of putty." (Wilson 22) Slowly other girls of the town became afflicted and eventually this led to the insistence of parents and clergy to know who was doing this to them. The girls finally admitted that it was Tituba, the Parris' West Indies slave. When Tituba was pressed to confess who else was involved in the devil's work, she blurted out Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. ...read more.


There are several interpretations of what might have transpired. Twentieth Century Freudian interpretation says that the girl's fits were caused by hysteria (defined as wild, uncontrollable emotion by the American Century Dictionary) which was the result of "repressed adolescent and preadolescent sexuality." (Aaron 53) It's easy enough to believe the girls were repressed; it was after all a Puritan society. A culture of ignorance and hypocrisy, where women were ruled by men and suppressed, more so when young and single. They were a society that looked at birth defects as a mark of the devil. In the 1970s, social historians started looking at the social and economic background. It was a time of extreme stress and instability in the community. Epidemic illness and Indian wars had been devastating. The king had revoked their charter, and left them without government, leaving everything unsettled. And a traditional farming community was under threat from the more influential merchant class. (Aaron 53) With all this bad luck befalling them, it was no wonder they blamed Satan. Still another view by two social historians, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, states their idea of a family feud between the Putnam's and Porters. Joseph Putnam, a son by a second marriage, was left the wealth of his father over his older brothers. And to make tensions worse, he married the daughter of the only family who rivaled the wealth of the Putnam's, an Elizabeth Porter. ...read more.


(Hansen 1) While appetite might be explained away by fear of being caught, the rest are all things that children are very good with playing at. As Puritan children having no outlet for their energies, playing pretend is, most likely, more dramatic to the watcher. Parents of this time and area are not use to seeing their children misbehave so badly on purpose, so it must be the devils doing to them. And who wouldn't want to have a way to get out of doing chores? Act afflicted, be told that the devil has taken hold, and there you go, you can get out of doing your chores without getting into trouble. Compile on to all of this the fact that the afflicted were mostly 18 or under and you see the repression of adolescent behavior making itself know. To repress something so natural, is to have it come out ten-fold. The children found a way to have a little fun in their dull life, and once they knew it went too far, couldn't stop. Those who joined in did so out of fear of being suspected of witchcraft themselves, not of true affliction. And perhaps once things had gone too far, and some of the girls realized it, they too became sick from the stress of what they were doing, sending innocent people to their death, all for a bit of fun. Word count total: 1,760 Works Cited is excluded from my word count total. ...read more.

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