Hysteria in Salem
In the year 1692, many of the residents of Salem Massachusetts were falsely charged with their involvement in Witchcraft. The ripple of hysteria was called the Salem Witch Trials. The accusations began when two girls claimed that there were witches among them. Fear, mania, and frenzy were running wild throughout the town of Salem. Over two hundred townspeople were unjustly persecuted for worshiping the devil. Twenty residents of Salem were charged for witchcraft, resulting in their death of getting hanged. The citizens who were prosecuted for witchery were named and judged by a large group of female teenagers. The teenagers would charge the townspeople in hopes of aiding themselves in their own needs. The motives of the adolescents can be blamed on the social pressures that the teens were put under during the late 1600s.
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A dark time in American history begins in 1692, called the Salem Witch Trials. The Witch trials can be described as a period of mass hysteria that ended in the imprisonment and death of many citizens of the Massachusetts Bay colony. The cases began to appear after a group of girls were caught tampering with witchcraft in the nearby woods. In the article, The Salem and Other Witch Hunts, the author connects the actions of the girls to an explanation as to what happened in Salem. The author states, “Abigail, along with her cousin Betty, accused citizens of Salem of being witches. The young girls claimed that they were being attacked by these men and women who had made a pact with the devil” (Kubic 1). This article connects the actions of the girls in the Salem witch trials to the other townsfolk. Many executions were unnecessary and were caused by impulsive and ill-considered evidence on how each townsfolk was a witch. The First Trial included Bridget Bishop, “Bishop was accused of not living ‘a Puritan lifestyle’ because she wore black clothing. Her coat has been found to be oddly “cut or torn in two ways”, and her behavior was regarded as ‘immoral.”’(Kubic 2). Bishop was tried for Witchcraft on June 10, 1692, and was hung the same day. The evidence that she was held up with was based on the colors of her clothing and the clothing physical conditions. Her individuality was used to describe her in a bitter way. The deaths during the Salem Witch Trials were uncalled for and were not reinforced by strong evidence, causing the deaths of so many people.
The spiritual Puritans, living in the Massachusetts Bay colony, believed that everything was created by God and that he was their divine ruler. Initially, they lived in Great Britain but they then moved to America in hopes of being able to worship freely according to their beliefs. The Puritan church was a theocracy, a system of government that revolves mainly on the church and god. They were very strict with their ideals for their religion. Anything out of the ordinary was thought to be the result of ungodly figures. The Puritans believed that “God had entered into a special relationship with godly people…The ministers and magistrates in New England believed witch-hunting, and the public executions that concluded it, cleansed the community of evil” (Hall 1). The Puritans believed that anyone tampering in witchcraft would have to be punished. The punishments were very brutal in hopes of getting information out of the accused. One example of the cruel punishments the Puritans would do was being pressed to death. Giles Corey was an innocent farm owner who was prosecuted for the act of witchcraft. Corey refused to answer questions during his trial to prevent the jury from receiving any evidence that would result in his sons receiving his land. Giles Corey died while defending his honor, “One suspect was subjected to peine forte et dure, a form of torture in which he was pressed beneath an increasingly heavy load of stones to make him enter a plea. He died without confessing” (Kubic 2). Giles death was one example of how the Puritans attempted to torture the information out of the convicted. The Puritan lifestyle revolved around god, leading every action they make, in hopes of pleasing their ruler. The puritan lifestyle caused social pressure throughout the town of Salem which resulted in the hysteria revolving around.
The afflicted girls of Salem were placed under difficult circumstances and were required to uphold them. The environment that surrounded the teens was filled with strict Puritan beliefs. Some Puritan beliefs involved loving only their god and no other figures. Many theorists believe that the actions of the girls can be blamed on the society they were facing. Even though the theorists have many different beliefs, they can all agree that “the girls likely suffered hysteria, which probably originated in fear of being discovered playing magic, of the strict Puritan environment in with they live, and of the damnation pulpit discourse preached every Sunday” (Rodriguez 2). The social context of the Puritans was that they were very serious about their religion which is why the girls would have been scolded for even the thought of witchcraft. Anything that was out of the Puritans realm of normality was thought of as a sin. The pressures of this society pushed the girls into their actions of deceitfulness.
One explanation for the adolescents’ actions could be described as the fear of being caught experimenting with witchcraft. The elders of the towns would scold the children for any actions that goes against their beliefs. “Supporters of this theory suggest that the consequent fear of being discovered practicing the black arts by their strict Puritans families provided the starting point for a chain of events resulting in the hanging of nineteen people and the imprisonment of several hundreds” (Rodriguez 1) The teens’ fear is built by the thought of it not being accepted in their society. The adults of the town would be disapproving of the young adults’ actions with the work of the devil due to their puritan beliefs. Although the girls were fearful of their lies being uncovered, they enjoyed the glory and recognition they were given. This is suggested in Rodriguez’s article, “Both sources support the idea that the girls enjoyed the fame and power that followed their accusations and could not see the risks and consequences of what they called ‘some sport”’ (Rodriguez 2). By unfolding the lies and misleading actions that the “afflicted” girls had thought it would cause the loss of their stardom and the feeling of importance in the town. The girls admitting to their actions would also bring upon the fret of their opinions of their duplicity. Both of these ideas cause the girls to be hesitant and avoid others finding the truth beneath their behavior.
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During the Salem Witch trials teenage girls, who claim to be “afflicted,” show deceitful and immoral actions to prevent others from realizing what they had committed. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Puritans were faced with unruly actions resulting in the deaths of many innocent bystanders. The Puritans’ beliefs and behaviors affected the teenage girls and caused their resistance to convey the truth. The pressures the adolescents were put through caused anxiety and fear at the thought of being looked down upon. This resulted in the girls blaming others for their guilty actions and not admitting their lies. The cause of the girls’ strange behavior can be blamed on the unjust circumstances they went through and were put to uphold.
- Gildrie, Richard P. “Visions of Evil:Popular Culture, Puritanism, and the Massachusetts Witchcraft Crisis of 1692.” Literature Resource Center, 1998, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/H1420013884/LitRC?u=wayne&sid=LitRC&xid=b6543dfa
- Gutierrez-Rodriguez, Marta Maria. “‘We Must Have Some Sport’: The Afflicted Girls of Salem in Fiction for Young Adults.” Salem Press, 2018, online.salempress.com.
- Hall, David D. “Witch Hunting in Salem.” EBSCOhost, 2019.
- Kubic, Mike. “The Salem (and Other) Witch Hunts.” Www.commonlit.org, 2016, www.commonlit.org.
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