Weekly Meeting: The Witches: Salem, 1692

The Witches
The Witches

This week: The Witches: Salem, 1692

Challenges: 

  • The Conference Read Down

What You Should Know:

  • This is a micro-history of what happened in New England.  This means Schiff is looking beyond the actual accusations and trials.  She puts it all in context of time, place and people.
  • I love this book and was so excited as I got closer and closer to being the person with the audiobook.
  • Forget everything you think you know about 1692 and Salem.  Much of what we think we know is very influenced by fiction.

Discussion:

I don’t care what you think about Salem, witches, or Puritans. This book proves one thing: pre-teen and teenage girls are the worst. THE WORST.  I suspected it when I was one, but now I know for sure.  Not just the worst because of things they do on their own, but also the worst because of what their bodies, minds, and others do to them.

Look, everything we know about Salem and the infamous witchcraft trials is influenced by books, movies, plays, and tv shows.

The TV show Salem makes it all look so awesomely evil.
The TV show Salem makes it all look so awesomely evil.

The story of Salem isn’t actually about controlling women.  Men were accused and found guilty.  This is more of a story, at least Shiff’s version, of miscommunication and manipulation.  This was about a world where nothing was an accident, nothing happened without cause, and when you couldn’t figure it out then it was the devil or a witch.

There are a few things I learned about through this book and I think other should be aware of.  First, Schiff looks back at what prompted the whole thing.  Our first two afflicted girls lived in the same household: Betty Parris and Abigail Williams.  Schiff suggests they may have actually been suffering from Conversion disorder, also known as hysteria.  Since this was not identified until the 19th century.  There was counterfeit cases of people seeing opportunity to hurt people or those who just got caught up in everything.

What about this not being about controlling women?  Well, Schiff considers a popular trope for women in colonial 17th century: the captivity narrative.  Instead of the damsel in distress, this trope paints women as saving themselves against attacks.   These narratives are not fictional, but most often true stories.  In colonial Massachusetts, the colonists often found themselves under attack by Native Americans (and vise versa, let’s be honest).  Women were often left alone to defend themselves.  This narrative put women in a very different frame than it would have if they had been back in Europe and the UK.

There is so much more to take away from this book, but these are the things that stuck out in my mind.

Who will like this:

  • If you like understanding the Salem Witch Trials, this book is for you.
  • If you like reading about America’s Colonial history, especially focused on Massachusetts, this book is for you.
  • If you like micro-history books, you may enjoy this one.

Other books finished this week:

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