What caused the hysteria in Salem in 1692-1693? Essay
What caused the hysteria in Salem in 1692-1693?
Just like a small matchstick has the inherent capacity to ignite a big fire, the outbreak of hysteria in Salem was due to an incident. A West Indian slave couple, Tituba and John Indian made efforts to make predictions about the future by using a crystal ball. The girls of the village also joined them in this experiment. As the news of this adventure spread, the investigating agencies put their foot down and warrants of arrests were issued for three women, Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, the latter two confessing their innocence while the former was arrested. This is the spark from where the big fire of hysteria began.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: The adventure of the couple mentioned in the above paragraph began in the winter of 1691, and its ill-influence spread fast, necessitating the arrests on February 1692. On detailed investigations 185 people were arrested, majority of them women (141 and 44 men). 14 women and 5 men were executed, then last group went to the gallows on September 22,1692. The end of trial was not without a spirited assertion by Increase Mather, father of Cottton Mather who delivered a sermon and it was published as Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men.
Condemning without qualification the spectral evidence upon which several cases had relied, Increase Mather declared that “It were better that ten suspected witches should escape, than that one innocent person should be condemned” (Salem…. ) EXPLANATION OF THE BASICS: The question is whether those convicted and given the capital punishment were really witches. The demographic evidence proves otherwise. Those accused of witchcraft in Salem belonged to affluent families. Some of them had politically powerful connections.
The well studied conclusions revealed that the root cause of witch craft were economic; the human jealousy that can not tolerate the prosperity of the adversary! It was a serious tussle between two classes, the rising mercantile class and the toiling farmers, who did not get adequate returns for their labor. Many accused were women with property, and the male-dominated society was not willing to tolerate their economic or social ascendancy. THESIS STATEMENT: The ill-educated and irrational leaders of society found a scapegoat in witchcraft to counter the social renaissance led by women in 1692-1693.
Women had to take the major share of the legal hunt for the witchcraft. Women with property and with no male heirs were considered as threat to society that believed in the orderly transfer of property from father to son. Raising male children was considered as their essential function. The case of Abigail Faulkner, who took charge of the family estate when her husband became incapacitated and who was almost immediately denounced as a witch. (Salem…) The accusations against the women were silly and without any rationale. Women should remain subdued! Outspoken women were not acceptable to the society.
It was easy to accuse a woman as sexually wayward. She had no defense in the social traditions prevailing then. Poor understanding of religion and philosophy and lack of human values were other reasons for the practice of witchcraft and also for the mindless punishment of execution awarded after undemocratic trials. The so called religious leaders commanded unchecked sway. Analyze what Stoughton says: “We were in a way to have cleared the land of witches. . . . Who is it that obstructs the course of justice I know not. The Lord be merciful to the country. “(Salem…. ) Thinkers are supposed to guide the society on the right path.
If their thought process is wayward and rustic, not amenable for reason, a society can not march on the progressive path. It shall remain regressive. Witchcraft had to pass through the tough path to secure justice in difficult conditions of jurisprudence prevailing in that era. Witch hysteria was tough to control. The Judiciary did nothing to protect people’s rights. Chief Justice William Stughton ordered the execution of all the suspected witches who had secured a fresh lease of life because they were pregnant. The order was countermanded by Governor Sir William Phips.
Later the remaining prisoners were also acquitted and released. Cases of Conscience was a right step to counter the witchcraft hysteria and it is interesting and gratifying to note that there were people ready to stand up against the madness. It was no ordinary stand considering the social set-up and traditions prevailing the medieval era. The ill-educated and irrational leaders of society found a scapegoat in witchcraft to counter the social renaissance led by women. The sad part of the history is that women are mostly at the receiving end in social-justice related matters.
Unreasonable demands and expectations about their social and family responsibilities by the male counterparts is the worst part of their life. Even in the modern era, there are areas where only lip sympathy is paid to the rights of women. Countries where women have no voting rights and their activities are confined within the four walls of the house still exist. She is duty bound to carry out the wishes of her husband to rear children.
References: Article: Salem Witch Trials background information … the most notorious example of the hysteria about witches, the events of 1692-1693 was: www. wsu. edu/~campbelld/amlit/witch. htm – 17k –
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 21 April 2017
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