Salem Witch Trials
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What remains most perplexing about the witch trials in Salem was the willingness of the village leadership to be so easily swayed by the rampant gossip, innuendo, and accusation of that time. We might ask:
- What did the leaders of Salem really have to gain through the exposure of so-called witches?
- What allowed these leaders to so quickly accept the presence of a supposed evil infecting their youth?
- What compelled them to 'fan the fires' inside the courtroom, sending their village into a state of fear and hysterics?
In short, the presence of witches and witchcraft created a need for authority, and a need for a united front against the existence of a perceived threat to the Puritan way of life. A research paper on the Salem witch trials will explore the following:
- The reasons why village leaders saw a threat to their interests
- A close look at how those same leaders chose to illustrate their power before the people of Salem.
- How the witch trials and hangings offered leaders an opportunity to display their righteous power and confirm their place within the community at large.
In the years, if not the decades, leading up to the 1692 witch trials, the people of Salem village had fallen into a series of contentious conflicts. The animosity and division had centered around questions as fundamental as religious authority, land claims, Puritan ideals, identity, independence, political and social control, and the economic future of the village. As one critic of these events writes, by 1689 "Salem had become congeries of distinct wards or precincts, each with its dominant interests, only coming together on Church days and funerals," adding that Salem "lost their coherence and town spirit flagged".
The challenge of social and economic division was especially difficult for a Puritan village of this time. A central tenet of the Puritan belief system was that "a community was not just a collection of people, it was an entire living organism, living under a covenant with God". But the breaking of that unity, through the emergence of conflict and bitterness, would have been perceived as a great threat to the continuing integrity of Salem village, and its Puritan ideals, in the minds of its embattled leadership. Ironically, it was the attempt by the Salem leaders to right their 'sinking ship,' to bring unity back to their village, and to entrench their own leadership, that made possible the hysteria and tragedy of the trials.