Table Of Content
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Part I No Model of Christian Charity: Salem, 1692
- 1. A Place of Darkness, Delusion, and Divination
- 1.1. A Brief History of the Witch
- 1.2. Witches in (Literary) Salem
- 1.2.1. Darkness
- 1.2.2. Delusion
- 1.2.3. Divination
- 1.3. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” (1835)
- 2. The Motif of Real Estate
- 2.1. Real Estate in American History
- 2.2. Puritan Beginnings
- 2.3. The Salem Witch Trials and Real Estate
- 2.3.1. Ministerial Difficulties
- 2.4. Real Estate in Salem Literature
- 2.4.1. Arthur Miller: The Crucible (1953)
- 184.108.40.206. The Putnams
- 220.127.116.11. Rebecca and Francis Nurse
- 18.104.22.168. John Proctor
- 22.214.171.124. Giles and Martha Corey
- 2.4.2. Longfellow and Wilkins Freeman: The Corey Plays
- 2.4.3. Ann Rinaldi’s A Break with Charity (1992): The English Family
- 2.4.4. Land Lust in Andover: Kathleen Kent’s The Heretic’s Daughter (2008)
- 2.4.5. Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables (1851)
- 3. The Motif of Love and Jealousy
- 3.1. Ebenezer Wheelwright’s The Salem Belle (1842)
- 3.2. John William DeForest’s Witching Times (1856)
- 3.3. Wilkins Freeman’s Giles Corey, Yeoman (1893)
- 3.4. Miller’s The Crucible (1953)
- 4. The Afflicted Girls
- 4.1. John Neal’s Rachel Dyer (1828)
- 4.2. DeForest’s Witching Times (1856)
- 4.2.1. The Special Case of Sarah Carrier
- 4.3. Other 19th-century Depictions: Hawthorne, Wheelwright, Longfellow, Wilkins Freeman
- 4.4. “I am eighteen and a woman”: The Crucible (1953)
- 4.5. Sarah Carrier Revisited: Kent’s The Heretic’s Daughter (2008)
- 4.6. Rinaldi’s A Break With Charity (1992)
- 4.7. Young-Adult Fiction and the Salem Story
- 5. Salem as a Metaphor
- 5.1. Miller’s 1953 Cold War Metaphor
- 5.2. William Carlos Williams: Tituba’s Children (1950)
- 5.3. Beyond McCarthyism
- 5.4. The Curious Proliferation of the Witch-Hunt
- Part II “History Casts a Long Shadow Here”: Contemporary Salem
- 1. The Motif of Ancestry
- 1.1. “On the Wrong Effing Side of History”: The Descendants of Salem’s Witch-Hunters
- 1.1.1. Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables (1851)
- 1.1.2. Adriana Mather’s How to Hang a Witch (2016)
- 1.2. “Hanging from Each of Their Family Trees was the Name Rebecca Nurse”: The Descendants of Salem’s Victims
- 1.2.1. Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (2009)
- 1.2.2. Brunonia Barry’s The Fifth Petal (2017)
- 2. A Place of Trauma
- 2.1. Brunonia Barry: The Map of True Places (2010)
- 2.2. Brunonia Barry: The Lace Reader (2006)
- 2.3. Rewriting the Past: From Microlevel to Macrolevel
- 3. Female Re-appropriations
- 3.1. Brunonia Barry’s Salem Universe
- 3.2. Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (2009)
- 3.3. The Witch as Pop Culture Heroine and Political Activist
- 3.4. Wicca in the United States
- 3.5. Witch City
- 4. Literary Memory
- 4.1. A Literary Memorial: Hawthorne’s “Alice Doane’s Appeal” (1835)
- 4.2. Memory Culture in Salem
- 4.3. “Honoring this True Place was Long Overdue”: Literary and Real Investigations
- 4.3.1. Mather: How to Hang a Witch (2016)
- 4.3.2. Barry: The Fifth Petal (2017)
- 4.4. Salem Literature as a Lieu de Mémoire of Salem Literature
- 4.4.1. Katherine Howe’s Conversion (2014) and Miller’s The Crucible (1953)
- 4.4.2. Brunonia Barry’s The Map of True Places (2010) and Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables (1851)
- 5. History Repeating
- 5.1. Religious Fundamentalism in The Lace Reader (2006)
- 5.2. Otherness and Online Shaming in The Fifth Petal (2017)
- 5.3. School Bullying in How to Hang a Witch (2016)
- 5.4. “What Girls are Capable of”: Hysteria in Conversion (2014)
“the Salem witch trials are best known today through the work of a playwright,
not a historian.”
(Boyer and Nissenbaum: Salem Possessed 22)
The story of the Salem witch trials is well known: In early 1692, the daughter and niece of Samuel Parris, reverend of the Puritan community of Salem Village, fall ill with convulsions, paralysis, and incoherent speech. Prayer and fasting do little to ease their symptoms, and the consulted doctor eventually diagnoses them as bewitched. Pressed for their tormentors, the girls name three village women: Tituba, Parris’s slave, Sarah Good, a beggar with a small child, and Sarah Osborne, a woman of dubious legal and moral reputation. Good and Osborne deny the charges, but Tituba eventually confesses: she did meet with the devil, she admits, and she did see Good and Osborne there, as well as other people she did not recognize. Yet unlike in previous witch trials, her confession saves her – the authorities decide to let her live for having exposed Satan and his supporters, and the danger of a secret witches’ community now dominates the villagers’ minds. Indeed, other girls also show symptoms of bewitchment; and even grown women and men soon name people they allegedly sighted with the devil and whom they accuse of spectrally harming or tormenting them. In late May, the Court of Oyer and Terminer is established to hear and determine the cases in Salem. Exactly 200 years after the discovery of America and only two generations after New England was first settled by the Puritans with the aim to establish a model community of Christian charity, one of the darkest European legacies emerges in Salem: the only organized witch trials in American history.
In A Storm of Witchcraft, Emerson Baker points out that “[t]raditionally in colonial Massachusetts, people who stood charged before the court could take comfort in the fact that the judges were there to protect the innocent and that justice would win out.” (160) But the judges in Salem fatally accept ‘spectral evidence’, testimonies based on dreams or visions of the accused’s misbehavior, as valid proof of a person’s guilt. Impossible to disprove, the accusations quickly climb “up the social ladder,” as Boyer and Nissenbaum put it in Salem Possessed, (33) befalling even well-regarded church members such as Martha Corey, Rebecca Nurse, and former minister George Burroughs, all of whom were hanged. By the ←11 | 12→end of 1692, they have spread way beyond the limits of Salem Village and Salem Town; more than 200 people are imprisoned for witchcraft, and 20 people have been publicly executed. Eventually, however, the prosecutions end as quickly as they started: amid overflowing jails, growing criticism, and the accusation of his own wife, Governor Phips stops the trials; by spring 1693 all remaining prisoners are released. Many people responsible later release apologies for their actions, Parris’s successor, Joseph Green, struggles to heal the community in subsequent years,1 witchcraft laws are loosened,2 and with the onset of the Enlightenment, the dark Salem episode seems confined to the past.
And yet, Salem is synonymous with the witch trials to this day; in fact, few other places are so distinctly linked to a certain time in American history. And while there are many Salems all over the US – Oregon’s capital city being the largest and politically most significant one – there is no further geographical distinction needed when ‘Salem’ is invoked as a reference in culture and everyday language. Although by international standards, the Salem witch trials were of small scale, their unique pace and structure continue to unsettle the American psyche: “as the most dramatic instance of social pathology and moral cowardice, [Salem] stands as a symbol of all people’s vulnerability to mass suggestion and scapegoating.” (Stout: Dictionary of Christianity in America 1041) Marion Starkey adds: “Because we can ‘know’ the people involved in the trials, we can begin ‘grasping the local’ as a means of ‘understanding the universal.’” (The Devil in Massachusetts 14–15) History is thus literally haunting the town – anyone who has been to Salem will remember the numerous museums, the ‘haunted houses’ and ‘witch tours’ tourists can take. However, its legacy extends well beyond the 40,000 coastal Massachusetts town: Countless historians have analyzed factors that may have led to the outbreak of accusations, from political and religious ←12 | 13→difficulties in 17th-century Salem to interpretations from a gender studies perspective.3 Indeed, studies like Baker’s 2014 A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience emphasize national significance. Further, innumerable cultural works have taken or alluded to the ‘Salem story’4 creatively, such as tv series (e.g. Salem, 2014–2017), films (e.g. The Lords of Salem, 2012), and, most prominently, literature.
Including a downright explosion of publications since the millennium, well over 70 works of fiction are set in historical or contemporary Salem. They tell, retell, and stage the story of 1692 and/or its legacy in the present, from the anonymously published Salem, an Eastern Tale in 1820 to the present; John Proctor or Giles Corey have become household names of American history and literature. Novels like Stephen King’s 1975 Salem’s Lot or Jodi Picoult’s 2001 Salem Falls do not even refer to Salem, Massachusetts, yet the bell the name rings fits these sinister and dramatic stories.5 Despite, or rather because of its contrast to the American founding myth, ‘Salem’ – the place and its history – is a distinctive part of the American collective memory.
Maurice Halbwachs, who introduced the concept of collective memory, defines it as the memory of notable events that many or all members of a group or society share. To pass these memories on to the next generation, the events are rendered to an individual by other members of the society. Halbwachs also points out that those events are typically linked to a certain space or place shared by the community; in fact, he argues that there is no collective memory that is not linked to a spatial frame. (cp. Das kollektive Gedächtnis 142) Historian Pierre Nora further studied this connection. In “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire” he differentiates between lieux de mémoire, ‘sites of memory’, ←13 | 14→and milieux de mémoire, ‘real environments of memory’. (7) While Halbwachs is concerned primarily with groups whose members are contemporaries (he distinguishes collective memory from history), Nora focuses on the fact that as soon as the communities of shared memories disappear, man-made sites of memory increase to keep the memories alive and to include them into a society’s identity. Memory, he writes, “attaches itself to sites” (22) – museums and memorials, but also abstract ‘sites’ such as anthems, texts, and symbols. While Salem itself is thus one of the most prominent American lieux de mémoire, so are the cultural works emerging from history. Indeed, Nora claims at the end of his 1989 essay, “memory has never known more than two forms of legitimacy: historical and literary. These have run parallel to each other but until now always separately.” (24) He addresses a vital development in memory studies in recent decades6 here: the inseparability of the analytic and the emotional, of place, history, memory, and literature. This new focal point will be the object of my study: the role of literature in the collective, or rather cultural memory of Salem.
Jan and Aleida Assmann have significantly shaped the term cultural memory which they use to reinterpret and further divide the term collective memory as introduced by Halbwachs. Renaming his concept communicative memory for Halbwachs’ focus on communities whose members are contemporaries (Nora’s ‘milieux de mémoire’), they distinguish cultural memory as those memories which are transferred from generation to generation through ‘lieux de mémoire’ such as literature. Jan Assmann explains further: “Cultural memory is a form of collective memory, in the sense that it is shared by a number of people and that it conveys to these people a collective, that is, cultural, identity.” (“Communicative and Cultural Memory” 110) This statement holds true for ‘Salem’: While personal accounts and interpretations of the trials were written shortly after the events7, historiography of the Salem witch trials only began in the 19th century with Salem mayor Charles Upham’s highly influential 1831 Lectures on Witchcraft and the 1867 Salem Witchcraft. But more importantly, fiction writers of the young nation were “mining colonial witchcraft histories in a broader effort to construct a uniquely ‘American’ literature.” (Vetere: “The Malefic Unconscious” 119) John ←14 | 15→Neal envisions in the unpublished preface to Rachel Dyer (1828), the first major fictionalization of the Salem witch trials, that “[o]ur literature will begin to wake up, and our pride of country will wake up with it” (x); he claims that “another state has been added to the everlasting confederacy of literature.” (xix) And few other writers have had a similarly vital role for the American Renaissance as did Hawthorne; F.O. Matthiessen writes in his eponymous work that both The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851) are “masterpieces” which helped the young literary nation in “affirming its rightful heritage in the whole expanse of art and culture.” (vii) Indeed, they are among the most famous works of American literature to this day and have incomparably shaped the cultural memory of the Puritan past in general and the Salem witch trials in particular, as well as the construction of American identity. David Booth writes: “knowledge about American history derived from literature” contributes to understanding “who we are and by what events we were made who we are.” (“Dubious American Ideal” 34/35)
While I am aware that depicting the past is always selective and highly subjective, I will single out recurring motifs in the collective depiction and construction of this contested place in 200 years of what I call ‘Salem literature’. Jan Rupp rightly states in “Erinnerungsräume in der Erzählliteratur” that “[t]he depiction and production” of places in literature “is not just a reflection of real places, but a constructive, often confrontational negotiation of the places of the collective memory.” (182, translation mine) It is indispensable for my analysis of literary Salem, however, to repeatedly refer back to the real place in Massachusetts, as not only its history but also its modern memory culture and politics are inseparable from the town’s literary treatment; the real and the literary place cross-fertilize. Yet it is neither my intention to find out what ‘really’ happened in Salem, nor is the veracity of the literary depiction critical. As Aleida Assmann states: “memory always works by means of reconstruction” as it “proceeds from the present and thus automatically leads to a shift, deformation, distortion, revaluation, restoration of the recollected at the time of its recall.” (Erinnerungsräume 29, translation mine) However, the historiography of the trials will help me contextualize the literary works. Finally, I will connect the medial preoccupation with the story of Salem to issues and politics of the present age as “a society’s cultural memory is always a reflection of its present interests, needs, and current levels of experience.” (Erll and Nünning: “Concepts and Methods for the Study of Literature and/as Cultural Memory” 11/12)
The sheer number of texts calls for a comprehensive literary profile, yet no such study has been undertaken so far. Bernard Rosenthal’s 1993 Salem Story. Reading the Witch Trials of 1692 is an indispensable contribution to Salem ←15 | 16→scholarship as the author tries to answer questions such as “How have we [Americans] variously perceived [the ‘witches’]? And How and why have we given Salem the place it has in the American imagination?” (5) However, his focus lies on primary texts, first and foremost the transcripts of the trials; literary texts are addressed only marginally. Marion Gibson’s 2007 “literary historiography,” Witchcraft Myths in American Culture, should not go unnoticed. Intending to analyze “everything written about witchcraft” in America, from trial records to fiction and nonfiction to “recent filmic adventures”, (2) Gibson significantly widens the scope of her study. Her book is highly informative, yet the large number of examples thwarts profound analyses. Robin DeRosa dedicates two chapters in her 2009 monography The Making of Salem: The Witch trials in History, Fiction, and Tourism to literary texts, one on novels and one on dramas. Her analyses of works from Hawthorne to Robin Cook’s 1995 pulp fiction novel Acceptable Risk are valuable and insightful, and her inclusion of French author Maryse Condé’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (1986) contrasts favorably with other scholarship. Yet the two chapters do not allow any in-depth discussions, and the author ignores Salem literature of the 21st century. Dane Anthony Morrison and Nancy Lusignan Schultz’s edited collection Salem: Place, Myth, and Memory (2004) targets everything from Salem’s religious, maritime and touristic history to a profound discussion of Hawthorne’s role in shaping its memory culture, but literarily hardly moves beyond the town’s most famous son. Two monographs are dealing exclusively with Salem literature, yet both limit themselves to the 19th century only: James William Clark’s 1970 dissertation at Duke University on The Tradition of Salem in American Literature: 1820–1870 and Heike Hartrath’s 1998 Fiktionalisierungen der Salemer Hexenverfolgung in amerikanischen Romanen vor 1860 (fictionalizations of the Salem witch trials in pre-1860 American novels).8 Yet it is particularly the contemporary novels ←16 | 17→in relation to works of the 19th and 20th century which are of interest to me; this inclusive corpus thus poses a fascinating research gap.
Including all of Salem literature in my analysis is near to impossible and bears the risk of being enumerative rather than insightful. Hence, as my focus lies on American cultural memory, I will only include works by US-authors and pick those that have been either popular successes and/or have received distinct critical attention in secondary literature. This includes the following works: As stated above, Neal’s 1828 Rachel Dyer has been the first major fictionalization of the Salem events, following the fate of one of the most controversial victims, reverend George Burroughs. Ebenezer Wheelwright’s 1842 The Salem Belle has received attention for its republication in 2016 by designated Poe and Hawthorne scholar Richard Kopley, who has done vital work in attributing the anonymously published novel to Wheelwright as well as in proving that The Salem Belle has influenced Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.9 Kopley’s investigation leads me to my next point: As has been stated, Hawthorne’s works have not only significantly shaped the perception of American colonial history, but they have been so inseparable from the development of the town of Salem that biographer Margaret Moore rightly states, “Salem and Hawthorne are not interchangeable, but it is hard to know the one without the other.” (The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne 7) I will limit myself to a profound analysis of only those works which are directly concerned with Salem’s history and memory:10 his early short stories “Young Goodman Brown” and “Alice Doane’s Appeal” (both 1835) as well as The House of the Seven Gables. Although The Scarlet Letter, set in 1640s Boston, is not a Salem novel, I will use it repeatedly throughout this book as a reference for its invaluable role in forming the cultural memory of Puritan New England as well as its intertextual significance for other literary works. I will also include John William DeForest’s Witching Times (1856), the only novel covering the whole history of the witchcraft persecutions from late 1691 to early 1693. I will further include the two ‘Corey plays,’ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1868 Giles Corey of the Salem Farms and Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman’s 1893 Giles Corey, Yeoman. Both are concerned with the fate of one of the most famous victims, 81-year-old Giles Corey whose death “has generated legends, stories, poems, plays, ←17 | 18→and songs.” (Rosenthal 163) After first having suspected his wife of witchcraft, he eventually repented by refusing to plead guilty or not guilty to his own accusation and was therefore subjected to the peine forte et dure, pressed to death by stones piled upon him. Rosenthal rightly states:
The stories of Giles and Martha Corey are very closely related, but it has been Giles about whom more legends and stories have been told than about any other Salem witch-trial victim […]. The trials may have been mainly about women, but the legends of specific individuals, as opposed to faceless witches in Halloween suits, have been mostly about men, and about Giles Corey more than any other. (159)
While Giles’ development from a superstitious supporter of the trials to proud and steadfast critic is traced in both plays, Wilkins Freeman brings Martha Corey’s courage and rationality to the forefront. As such, contrary to what the title suggests, her play is as much, if not more, about Martha Corey than about Giles – and hence marks a valuable contribution to female authorship and female characters in 19th-century fiction.
While the 20th century brought forth a much smaller amount of Salem literature, it produced the most popular one of all: Arthur Miller’s 1953 The Crucible has in many ways overwritten Salem history in the cultural memory; in fact, many Americans know about the events through Miller’s play only. Boyer and Nissenbaum thus self-ironically state: “the Salem witch trials are best known today through the work of a playwright, not a historian.” (Salem Possessed 22) What is more, the play is as famous for its setting in Puritan Salem as for its time of origin, the ‘Red Scare’ of the early 1950s which made the 1692 events eerily resurface. Strikingly similar in theme and setting is William Carlos William’s neglected play Tituba’s Children (1950, publ. 1961); he, too, parallels colonial Salem and Washington, D.C. in 1950. Hence, both plays are included in my corpus.
Regarding the boom of Salem literature since the millennium, I will have to limit myself to a couple of significant contributions: Ann Rinaldi’s A Break with Charity, published in the year of the Salem tercentenary in 1992, marks the first major success in an endless row of popular (young-adult) novels taking to the Salem story. Tailored to a contemporary juvenile audience, Rinaldi tells the events from the perspective of an involved girl, Susanna English, underlining the timelessness of the protagonist’s experience. Equal in outlook is Kathleen Kent’s 2008 The Heretic’s Daughter which takes on the point of view of Sarah Carrier, one of the most controversial children in the history of the Salem trials; Sarah fatefully confirmed her mother’s accusation as a witch. Katherine Howe’s 2009 The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane as well as her 2014 young-adult novel ←18 | 19→Conversion both tell two-plot stories: one set in 1692 and one set in the present, until they eventually converge. By doing so, Howe puts a new turn on the lasting appeal of the Salem story. A Salemite herself, Brunonia Barry’s three novels, The Lace Reader (2006), The Map of True Places (2010) and The Fifth Petal (2017) are all set in contemporary Salem with a strong focus on the town’s memory culture and the reverberation of the past in the present. After years of email exchange, I had the great luck to meet Barry personally in 2017; my conversations with her will be used as a reference in my analyses. Adriana Mather’s young-adult novel How to Hang a Witch (2016) lacks narratological depth but serves as a valid example of popular juvenile Salem literature and features many motifs encountered also in more critically acclaimed works.
I am aware that I am mixing different text types in my analysis – narratives, that is, novels and short stories, and dramas. Both genres stand to reason: Katharine Hodgkin and Susannah Radstone state in Memory – History – Nation that “memory stories, in western tradition, are most familiarly told in narrative,” (13) allowing a strong emotional connection to the reader by taking on the perspective of one (or more) characters involved in the events. Hence, especially first-person narrators are frequently used in (contemporary) Salem literature; the personal tragedies of the events are predestined for this text form which enables a deep insight into their situation. Birgit Neumann states:
In this staging of individual and cultural memory, narrative texts can fall back on a broad spectrum of aesthetic techniques, ranging from characteristic features of narrative mediation to the representation of the inner world, time and space, to intertextuality or the design of plot patterns. (“The Literary Representation of Memory” 335)
And as will be seen, all these points hold true for the cultural memory of Salem in the novels and short stories of my corpus. Regarding my selection of four dramas, the genre fits the dramatic quality inherent in the events itself – the trial records almost read like a theater play.11 Moreover, as Neumann writes, “[t]he action of the past can be understood as a sequence of episodic memories and thus as a dramatic analogue to the narrative representation of consciousness.” (340) To include only the one or the other genre would hence make an incomplete analysis.
In order to discern uniting elements and their function in the construction of literary Salem, I will close-read the works of my corpus under multiple thematic ←19 | 20→aspects (though the length of discussion varies), following the idea of narratology. I shall quote Neumann once again:
Narratology […] has proven to be of great value in the exploration of the representation of memory. Narratological approaches draw attention to formal-aesthetic characteristics of literature and thereby bring into view the fictional possibilities for world- or memory-creation. (333)
My work will be divided into two big blocks with five chapters each, one on works set in Salem in 1692 and one on those set in contemporary Salem – the publication date of the works is not decisive for my allocation. Within these blocks, my work will be structured as follows: After a brief historical discourse on witchcraft persecutions in general and in Salem in particular, chapter I.1. targets the most pervasive image of the historical place in the cultural memory, namely that the town whose name ironically translates into peace12 has turned into the failure, if not the outright inversion of John Winthrop’s 1630 vision of the virtuous “city upon a hill”; I will use this sermon as a vantage point. By way of example, in DeForest’s Witching Times the narrator recalls how
Men became more credulous, suspicious, and cruel-hearted, just in proportion as they grew more frantic with terror and fanaticism. The excitement was of a nature to develop the worst traits of the Puritans and change even their virtues into vices. The real piety and kindness of the many was for a time paralyzed; and those now disgraced the Christian religion who would willingly have laid down their lives for its glory. (126, emphasis mine)
Similarly, Kent’s protagonist in The Heretic’s Daughter states already in the prologue that the following story is about “a terrible time, when charity and mercy and plain, good sense were all thrown into the fire of zealotry, covering everyone left living with the bitter ash of regret and blame.” (xiii, emphasis mine) Significantly, charity and mercy are among the most important virtues Winthrop points out as founding pillars of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In my literary analysis of this negative connotation, I will focus on three distinctive attributes: darkness, delusion, and divination. Salem is portrayed as a place of literal and metaphorical darkness as frequent color symbolisms express the hate and superstition that have gained the upper hand in 1692. It is a place of delusion as the fear of witchcraft drives the whole region into madness, making normal village life impossible. I quote again from The Heretic’s Daughter:←20 | 21→
Andover woke to find that witches inhabited every possible corner of its households and fields. A daughter drying herbs upon a corn crib was suspect. A niece marking a thumb print on an unbaked loaf was conjuring. The welcoming wife parting the sheets on the marriage bed was a succubus, draining the life’s blood from her husband’s body […]. (304)
Despite this decrial of the belief in witchcraft, Salem curiously also remains a place of divination in the cultural memory – after all, the ailments of the ‘afflicted girls’ are unaccounted for to this day, and even those who later apologized for their actions attributed their misbehavior to evil forces. ‘Afflicted girl’ Ann Putnam Jr. famously spoke of the “great delusion of Satan” that made her act the way she did (“The Confession of Ann Putnam” 108), and a group of former jury members issued an apology in which they expressed that while they were guilty of having shed “innocent blood”, they had “not [been] capable to understand, nor able to withstand the mysterious delusions of the powers of darkness and prince of the air.” (“The Jury’s Apology” 197) Thus, Rosenthal rightly states in Salem Story:
To the end of their lives, none of the participants whose written record survives drew back from the claim that the colony had been infested with witches. […] Thus, in the American mythology, Salem became both the place of martyrdom where superstition had uttered its final gasp, and the domain where witches had roamed. (202)
This curious synergy will reappear throughout my analysis in manifold shapes and will serve as an overall guiding principle.
Chapter I.2. addresses the literary motif of real estate disputes and land lust as a crucial factor in the witchcraft accusations. This motif originates in Salem history, as Boyer and Nissenbaum’s Salem Possessed comprehensively demonstrates, but also serves as a strong plot device, from The House of the Seven Gables to The Crucible to Rinaldi’s and Kent’s modern novels. To contextualize my analysis, I will initially situate American real estate acquisition culturally and historically, and at times connect the time of origin of the literary works to this frame. For as Walter Benn Michaels generically states in his chapter on “Romance and Real Estate”, “[i]t may be worth noting that in 1850 Hawthorne was writing at the start of one of the peak periods in nineteenth-century American land speculation […].” (The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism 90)
Chapter I.3. investigates a probable, but historically unproven factor in the accusations of Salem, namely that love affairs, jealousy, and sexual restrictions caused and fueled the trials. Reinforcing a long entanglement of witchcraft, sex, and sin, many works pair one of the most cliché plot devices, a complicated love triangle, with one of the most perilous times in American history. Especially the ←21 | 22→two lesser-known novels The Salem Belle and Witching Times will be discussed thoroughly in this chapter, particularly as their plots show striking parallels in the configuration of this motif.
Chapter I.4. is devoted to the literary depiction of the highly controversial afflicted girls with whom the persecutions started. I will give an overview of scholarship investigating their behavior, with a special focus on Karlsen’s The Devil in the Shape of a Woman. Her 1987 study looks at their situation from a gender studies perspective, taking into account their family backgrounds, their social position, and the psychological effects of religious indoctrination. Karlsen states: “[p]ossession behavior, as scholars have noted, contains elements that suggest repressed erotic impulses.” (135) As will be shown, the same interpretation is given in many literary works. I will start with Neal’s Rachel Dyer, address Miller’s famous group of girls around Abigail Williams, and I will discuss Tituba’s myth-enshrouded role as voodoo-instructor of the girls in history and fiction. However, my focus will lie on the afore-mentioned contemporary young-adult novels and their female narrators who are either part of, or close to, the group of afflicted girls, revealing to their modern peers what ‘really happened’. In the young-adult genre, the Salem story and their readership meet.
Chapter I.5. addresses the afterlife of ‘Salem’ as a metaphor for intolerance, injustice, denunciation, and persecution. While already “early national enactments of Salem,” as Vetere vicariously points out, express “conservative fears of the dangers of democracy, its deluded masses and designing demagogues,” (120) this chapter predominantly focuses on Arthur Miller’s and William Carlos Williams’s use of Salem as a metaphor for the Communist persecution of the 1950s under senator Joseph McCarthy. Meredith Malburne-Wade writes in Revision as Resistance in Twentieth-Century American Drama: “Intrinsic to Salem, the HUAC, and McCarthyism were deeply rooted suspicions, the act of confession, and a blatant disregard for American principles in the name of misguided nationalism.” (25) This ‘blatant disregard for American principles in the name of misguided nationalism’, as my analysis shall further show, has reawakened in recent history. In fact, when Miller writes in the introduction to Collected Plays that he was unsettled by how “the far Right was capable of creating […] a new subjective reality,” (39) this observation does not only interlink the alleged Communist infiltration and the 17th-century belief in a secret witches’ community based on spectral evidence, but rings an ominous bell in times of fake news, alternative facts, and openly displayed racism and misogynism during the ←22 | 23→Trump administration.13 The simultaneous curious proliferation of the political witch-hunt metaphor in recent years and decades shall conclude this chapter.
This final point serves as a fitting transition to part II on the depiction of contemporary Salem and history’s long shadow there. Chapter II.1. addresses the literary preoccupation with genealogical connections to people involved in the trials; numerous authors of historical studies as well as of fiction cite their own ancestry as inspiration to explore this chapter of American history. Of course, no one is more famous in that respect than Nathaniel Hawthorne who, repelled by his own great-great-grandfather’s position as a judge in the trials, gave his Puritan forefathers “little peace in his writings because they gave him little peace.” (Edwin Haviland Miller: Salem is My Dwelling Place 22) He writes already in the preface to The House of the Seven Gables that “the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones”; (2) the 1692 feud between the Maules and the Pyncheons has a relentless and fateful grip on their 19th-century descendants. Peter Buitenhuis rightly states in Severing Family and Colonial Ties: “Hereditary guilt, hereditary pride, hereditary property, hereditary claims, hereditary decay, and the links between all five form the basis of the tale.” (31) Hence, although Hawthorne’s depiction of present-day Salem certainly does not reflect the town of the 21st century, I will use this novel in part II for its look back on 1692 as a vantage point. Hawthorne’s Salem romance will be compared to Adriana Mather’s young-adult novel How to Hang a Witch, as the author (just like her protagonist) is a descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the most contested Salemites and Puritans. Both novels are then contrasted with a group of (female) modern writers and their characters who are descended from people hanged in 1692 – as shall be shown, a much more becoming genealogy which allows them a positive reinterpretation of their ancestors. Sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel writes: “The way we construct genealogies thus tells us as much about the present as it does about the past,” (Ancestors and Relatives 10) and I shall interpret this popular American pastime and its literary adaptation accordingly.
Chapter II.2. studies Salem as a place of personal trauma in the novels of Brunonia Barry. In each of her three novels, a young female protagonist returns to her hometown Salem, an extremely negatively connoted place as they ←23 | 24→experienced the death of a parent or sexual abuse there. Especially in The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places, characters who suffer from mental health issues, however, use creative writing to process the past. Eventually, Salem turns from a place of trauma to a place of home for all three women. Homi Bhaba writes: “Remembering is never a quiet act of introspection or retrospection. It is a painful re-membering, a putting together of the dismembered past to make sense of the trauma of the present,” (The Location of Culture 63) and I argue that these contemporary novels show on a microlevel the function of Salem literature as a whole on a macrolevel: to make sense of the past through writing and thereby come to better terms with the present. I will conduct my analysis with the help of seminal publications in the field of trauma studies, another research area that has gained immense significance in recent decades and compliments my cultural memory studies approach.
In Chapter II.3. I will address the female re-appropriation of and in Salem literature and of the figure of the witch in general. Coinciding with a hype of all things supernatural in recent years and decades, the witch has become a figure of female empowerment and independence in popular culture and even in political activism. This also holds true for contemporary Salem fiction which is not only almost exclusively written by female authors but features strong female characters whose second sight and psychic powers make them especially welcome in Salem. This development prompts Brunonia Barry to state in “Happy Halloween! Love, Salem” that in her stories, the town itself is “definitely female.” (n.pag.) Literature thus strongly contributes to the real redefinition of Salem which has not only become, as Barry said in a personal interview, a “sanctuary city” for diversity (Interview 2017) but a center of Wicca practice and self-proclaimed witches. I will trace this fascinating evolution in my analysis.
Chapter II.4. continues with Salem’s difficult memory culture between exploration and exploitation of history, and the role of literature in this ongoing struggle: from Hawthorne’s “Alice Doane’s Appeal” in which the narrator bemoans the lack of a memorial for the victims of 1692 in 19th-century Salem to plotlines in How to Hang a Witch and Barry’s The Fifth Petal paralleling the real recent investigations of the hanging site and the eventual construction of the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial in 2017. The second part of this chapter will show how Salem literature becomes a lieu de mémoire of Salem literature itself. Barry’s The Map of True Places and Katherine Howe’s Conversion reference – and challenge – The House of the Seven Gables respectively The Crucible so strongly in theme and structure that for a reader unacquainted with these ‘Salem classics’ the modern novels would forfeit their depth. Rupp writes that not only do memory spaces constitute themselves always in the intertextually linked up space of literary ←24 | 25→memory, (cp. “Erinnerungsräume” 182) but that the interplay of literature as a memory space and memory spaces and places in literature is vital for the comprehensive analysis of literary space and place (cp. 188). My comparative analysis marks an important, and previously unexplored, contribution to scholarship on Salem literature.
The final chapter, II.5., addresses the idea that the dynamics of the witch trials could repeat in a metaphorical sense in the present-day town. According to Barry’s afore-mentioned character analysis of Salem, history repeating is its “biggest fear.” (“Happy Halloween!” n.pag.) Indeed, this thought experiment is transposed into an array of different subjects in the novels by Barry, Howe, and Mather: from religious extremism and the revitalization of the alt-right to school bullying and online shaming to female anxiety and mass hysteria among teenagers. Although this topic is thematically related to the concluding chapter of part I which shows how the Salem story turned from a local phenomenon into an (inter)national metaphor, this chapter targets how themes of (inter)national significance are problematized in the shape of a Salem story back in the local, in Salem itself.
In the conduction of my motif history of Salem literature over ten chapters, I will thus choose a transdisciplinary focus indispensable for the adequate analysis of cultural memory, including cultural and media studies, (religious) history, politics and psychology. Erll and Nünning state:
The concept of ‘literature as a medium of cultural memory’, finally, refers to the mediality of literary texts and their functions in the formation and transformation of cultural memories. Research in this field is only just beginning. Yet precisely such an understanding of the role that literary works play as media in historical memory cultures holds a great potential for the interdisciplinary applicability of literary as cultural memory studies. (“Concepts and Methods” 14)
The interplay of this topical interdisciplinary field of research and the growth of Salem literature in recent decades poses a fascinating interplay for studying the role of literature in coping with this proto-American past, especially as the Salem story has lost nothing of its topicality.←25 | 26→
1The “gentle successor” of Samuel Parris “began to have an ameliorating effect” on the community. In 1699, “Green welcomed the Nurse family back into communion and restructured the seating arrangements in the meetinghouse, placing the Nurse family and the Putnams on the same bench. In 1703, he requested that the congregation repeal their excommunication of Martha Corey.” (David K. Goss: The Salem Witch Trials. A Reference Guide 68) He also helped Ann Putnam Jr. compose her public apology.
2“In December 1692 the General Court passed an act that made practicing magic punishable only by imprisonment and the pillory, unless the magic was used to commit murder. […] In 1703, the General Court passed a law invalidating spectral evidence. In England, Parliament would finally decriminalize witchcraft in 1736. […] No American court would ever again execute a witch after 1692, and witchcraft prosecutions came to an abrupt halt in New England.” (Baker 208/209)
3To name only a few pertinent examples: Boyer and Nissenbaum’s 1976 Salem Possessed. The Social Origins of Witchcraft, Carol F. Karlsen’s 1987 The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England, or Mary Beth Norton’s 2002 In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. Of course, these analyses feed upon each other just as they occasionally refute each other.
4I am borrowing this term from Bernard Rosenthal’s 1993 Salem Story. Reading the Witch Trials of 1692.
5Picoult’s novel is set in Salem Falls, New Hampshire. However, the author does address historical and contemporary ‘Salem themes’ such as false accusations and the practice of Wicca. King’s novel is set in Salem’s Lot, Maine where the residents are turning into vampires, i.e. becoming evil. This evil connotation of the place is also to be found in grunge band Nirvana’s song “Serve the Servants” (In Utero, 1993) where references to European witch trials and King’s novel converge: “If she floats then she is not/ a witch like we had thought/ a down payment on another/ one at Salem’s Lot”.
6The recently formed interdisciplinary Memory Studies Association who launched the first conference in 2016 is exemplary for the contemporary range of work done in this research area. See memorystudiesassociaton.org.
7Deodat Lawson’s 1692 Brief and True Narrative of Witchcraft at Salem Village, Cotton Mather’s 1693 defense Wonders of the Invisible World, Robert Calef’s 1700 satirical reply More Wonders of the Invisible World, John Hale’s 1697 Modest Inquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft
8A part of her study, ”Die Salemer Hexenverfolgung in der amerikanischen Literatur des 19. Jahrhunderts: Eine Romananalyse von John Neal’s Rachel Dyer,” was published earlier in the collection Die Salemer Hexenverfolgungen. Perspektiven – Kontexte – Repräsentationen (1994). Other essays which address my focus of research are Hans-Joachim Lang’s “Die Salemer Hexenprozesse als versäumte Chance der amerikanischen Nationalliteratur” in the same collection, G. Harrison Orians’s “New England Witchcraft in Fiction” (1930), David Levin’s “Salem Witchcraft in Recent Fiction and Drama” (1955), Morris Wei-hsin Tien’s “The Witchcraft Delusion in Three American Plays” (1988), Amy W.S. Lee’s “Searching for the Witch in the Blood: The Autobiographical Trend in Salem Fiction” (2012), and Marta María Gutiérrez Rodríguez’s “Witches and Literary Justice: The Salem Witchcraft Trials in Nineteenth-Century Historical Fiction” (2013). None of these authors attempts a time-spanning analysis comparable to mine, however.
9Cp. Kopley: The Threads of The Scarlet Letter, Chapter 3 (“A Novel by Ebenezer Wheelwright”).
10Works such as “Main Street” or “The Whole History of Grandfather’s Chair” will be addressed only marginally.
11DeRosa addresses this topic in her chapter on “You Seem to Act Witchcraft”: Theatricality and the Trial Transcripts.”
12As Baker explains, “from shalom, the Hebrew word for ‘peace’ (as in Jerusalem, which means ‘city of peace’).” (70)
13This idea also guides Kurt Andersen’s 2017 Fantasyland, a “500-year history” of American loss of reality and its identity-forming significance, from the radical priesthood of all believers, the Puritan utopia in the New World and the Salem witch trials to, notably, the recent belief “that real estate would always and only increase in value” (5) and the election of Donald Trump.
“God has naught to do with what happened here,’ I said.
She nodded. ‘He has abandoned Salem.’
‘Salem has abandoned Him,’ I retorted.”
(A Break with Charity 197)
Although the term witch is derived from the Old English wicca/wicce (a male/female magician), it is inextricably linked to the female sex, and the epitome of the witch is much older than the word itself. Witch-like figures can be found in ancient cultures from around the world14 and were often associated with fertility goddesses, with positively connoted sexuality and power. Kristen J. Sollée writes in Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive: “the wonders and horrors of womankind were embodied by these generative, destructive mother goddesses who symbolized both birth and death, light and dark.” (21)
This is different in Christian texts. Although I do not want to oversimplify the link between monotheism and witchcraft persecutions,15 already in the Bible the female sex is attributed weak-mindedness and susceptibility toward the devil’s seductions; Eve’ giving in to the temptation of the snake causes the fall of men.16 Two passages in the Bible even warn explicitly of ‘sorcery’: One is the story of the ‘Witch of Endor’, a “woman that hath a familiar spirit” (I Sam 28:717) and thus summons the spirit of Samuel at the demand of King Saul. Although she can be called a necromancer, neither this term nor the term witch is used in the Hebrew original or the King James translation. Moreover, she is portrayed as compassionate and she is not punished for her work, even though “Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land.” (I Sam 28:3) The other passage is much more resolute: “thou shalt not suffer a witch to ←29 | 30→live.” (Exodus 22:18) This instruction was later used to justify the executions in Europe and America where the majority of victims were women.18 Yet, despite the unequivocal imperative to take a witch’s life, the Bible does define their nature. In The Penguin Book of Witches, Katherine Howe comments:
The witch appears first, in biblical terms, as the Other, as that which is not doctrinaire. Witchcraft is less a set of defined practices than a representation of the oppositional, as the intentional thwarting of the machinery of power. (xii)
Reasons given for the persecutions range from confessional and political conflicts to epidemic plagues and economic crises to clashes between Christians and nature-based pagans. Some sources also suggest that especially (female) folk healers were targeted as they were using spells and magic to “aid love, sex, prosperity, and fertility,” (Sollée 22) issues that were immoral for women to address, let alone take into their own hands. Especially midwives who helped with births, contraception, and abortions were thought to be “circumventing the male-dominated medico-religious system,”19 (41) even though – or just because – “[m]any of these remedies were painless and far more effective than the bleeding, leeching, and purging that were standard medical practices.”20 (Enders A. Robinson: Salem Witchcraft and Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables 100) But while no interpretation accounts for all cases, they confirm that the witch generally represents the other, be it for her profession or intellect, her ←30 | 31→economic and social position or her unorthodox (love) life. Of course, also mentally ill women (and men) were easy targets.21
Books on witchcraft detection and punishment (especially of harmful black magic22) were published by religious and legal authorities. Fueled by Pope Innocent VIII’s 1484 bull Summis desiderantes, the most influential work was the Malleus Maleficarum, the ‘Witch Hammer’, published in 1486 by German Catholic inquisitor Heinrich Kramer23 and Dominican author Jakob Sprenger;24 the book legalized the organized persecution of witches. Men (and even children) are not excluded from being in league with the devil, but the book is particularly outspoken on the mental and physical relationship between female witches and the devil. Both Incubi and Succubi are per definition sexual threats,25 witches were believed to have sex with the devil (preferably at a ‘witches’ sabbath’)26 and to let their animal familiars suck on their ‘witch’s teat’ for which they were searched during interrogations. Though this ‘teat’ could be any kind of skin irregularity, some historians suggest that it was oftentimes the clitoris, reinforcing the sexual ←31 | 32→association and the witches’ threat to men due to their seductive power. (Cp. Jia Tolentino: “The Truth about Witches: An Interview with Katherine Howe” n.pag.) These misogynistic sentiments are best expressed in the authors’ statement that all witchcraft “is governed by carnal lusting, which is insatiable in [women].” (Malleus Maleficarum 122) Katherine Howe further explains:
Witches pervert the generative properties of womanhood in their suckling of imps and their copulations with devils, they subvert the church’s authority by turning Christian rituals on end; and they undermine class hierarchy by claiming unearned power for themselves. (The Penguin Book of Witches xii)
The image of witches riding on a broomstick has sexual undertones, too: the broomstick, a phallic object, is ridden with the help of ‘flying ointment’27 – this household object is literally ab-used to escape the domestic space, opposing women’s roles as housewives and mothers only.28 Yet as the interrogators were oftentimes “supposed to be celibate for life” (Sollée 23) it comes as no surprise that sexuality was ‘othered’ and that women under arrest were often tortured into confessing sexual practices, (cp. 88) expressing their tormentors’ “horror and pleasure, disgust and arousal.”29 (98) The image of the witch has thus always been predominantly shaped by men, both as the luring vixen and as the old hag: “Women are frightening for being unattractive, sexually unappealing, and past their prime” just as they are “frightening when young and attractive because the witch is also charming, bewitching, beguiling, and sexually irresistible […].” (Sollée 18)
While opponents of the persecutions also published steadily,30 other approving works were e.g. King James I’s Daemonologie (1597) which supported the persecution of witches in England and Scotland as he regarded the devil as ←32 | 33→“the first cause of ungovernability and disorder.” (Howe 30) He also initiated the most successful translation of the Bible into English (the standard one to this day), and his decision to choose the female grammatical gender for the witch further perpetuated their association. (Cp. Tracy Borman: “James VI and I: The King Who Hunted Witches” n.pag.) Also influential were English Puritan William Perkins’s A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft (1608) which was particularly outspoken on the nature of spectral evidence as well as the bodily signs of witchcraft (‘Devil’s mark’), and later Cotton Mather’s works, particularly Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions (1689). Both were consulted in the Salem witch trials.
The only organized witch trials in the United States were entirely different in method and scope from the European witch-hunts – especially regarding the Protestant background and the possibility to escape prison and execution by confession. Yet English witchcraft manuals fell on open ears in the Puritan society, a theocratic community battling many societal problems – no valid charter, ministerial difficulties, Native American attacks, a growing, more diverse society, and a “decline in religious fervor.”31 (Baker 10) Karlsen writes in The Devil in the Shape of a Woman:
This is not to argue that Puritanism caused witchcraft, only that witchcraft did not take on much significance in colonies where Puritans were not in control. Traditional witchcraft beliefs existed and occasional accusations were lodged in all of the colonies, but the authorities in other places paid the accusations little heed and there were few witchcraft trials and almost no executions. (342)
And although women did have “important official functions as midwives” and, if they were ‘full church members,’ “could see off the most unsavory men” in colonial New England, (Thompson: Sex in Middlesex 196) many of the misogynistic views seen in the persecutions in Europe reverberate in Salem. Lori Lee Wilson enumerates: “Of the 20 people executed at Salem, 14 were women. Twenty-five of the 31 people tried and convicted were women. One hundred four of the 141 people arrested were women.” (The Salem Witch Trials 75) In fact, most male victims were only arrested and tried after their wives had already been accused of ←33 | 34→witchcraft. And it was those women who deviated most from societal norms who were likely to be accused: The first person to be executed, Bridget Bishop, had been accused of witchcraft before for murdering her husband. Moreover, as he “had recently died without leaving a will” she was “ordered to pay her deceased husband’s debts, but she was granted permission to sell a ten-acre lot to pay those debts and to provide for herself […]”, offering “the classic case of the vulnerable, propertied woman […] most likely to be accused as a witch.”32 (Rosenthal: Salem Story 83) In the cultural memory, she is also remembered for opposing Puritan clothing standards, wearing a red dress33 instead of the standard muted colors which symbolized decency.34 A particularly noteworthy accusation against her also involved spectrally entering the bedchamber of Marshal Herrick, “the account of [which] illustrates the sexual threat embodied by witches, particularly the threat that they posed to male authority.” (Howe 166) The first three accused were equally deviant: Tituba, the minister’s slave from Barbados, Sarah Good, an unpopular impoverished woman, and Sarah Osborne, a widow entangled in real estate fights who had recently married her formerly indentured servant. However, while these ‘witches’ were also subject to the laws of men, considering that the trials were initiated and fueled by the ‘afflicted girls’ and supported by many adult women, Karlsen rightly points out that the (Salem) witchcraft persecutions were “a deeply ambivalent but violent struggle within women as well as an equally ambivalent and violent struggle against them.” (The Devil in the Shape of a Woman xv)
Tituba’s accusation is least surprising: although she is frequently portrayed as a ‘Negro’,35 her likelier Native American background affiliates her with the villagers’ enemies; Cotton Mather famously “compared King William’s War to the struggle against Satan being waged in Salem and blamed the Indians for both conflicts.” (Baker 106) Moreover, her alleged knowledge of voodoo also ←34 | 35→links her to another Puritan enemy: though of West African origin, the religion entails many Catholic influences such as hagiolatry (cp. Guiley 349). However, as Malburne-Wade points out, not only do “the types of witchcraft feared in Salem closely resemble English myths and not those of Tituba’s native Caribbean,” (Revision as Resistance 179) but many scholars have noted that Tituba’s confession curiously “displays a deep knowledge of English witchcraft: the covenanting with the Devil, the spirit familiars in the forms of animals, riding on a stick to the Sabbath, and sending out a spirit to do harm […].” (Howe 140) Howe elaborates further:
Such details about witchcraft were scholastic, rather than common folk knowledge. These details coming from the mouth of an illiterate slave from Barbados strongly suggest coercion both in the act of the confession, as well as instruction in what specifically to say. (141)
It is widely believed that Samuel Parris beat her into confessing knowledge about a secret witches’ conspiracy36 to justify the organized persecution of dissenters; in March 1692 he declared that “Christ knows how many Devils there are” in the community. (“The Sermon Notebook of Samuel Parris” 147)
What Brian P. Levack has termed the cumulative concept of witchcraft – the sabbath, the pact with the devil,37 and the witches’ flight (The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe 29–50) – became standard elements of accusations and confessions in Salem, representative of everything the Puritan colony was not; an inversion of the founding pillars of the theocracy. The witches’ sabbath mocks the Christian church service, the pact with the devil inverts the worship of God, and, as stated above, especially female ‘witches’ oppose the ideal of the Puritan woman: the chaste, submissive and decent pillar of the ‘holy family’, “the most important unity of Puritan society.” (Baker 148) Of course, any interference with one’s fate through magic means also strongly contradicts the Covenant of Grace and the belief in predestination.
But looking at the transcribed confessions, the allegedly clear demarcation lines often blur. DeRosa writes: “the Lord and the devil operate so similarly throughout their narratives that it becomes difficult to understand the difference ←35 | 36→between the two powers” so that “accused witches repeatedly cite this confusion of good and evil as reasons for their sins.” (The Making of Salem 40) The following excerpt from Tituba’s examination is exemplary for this growing confusion and the delusion descending on Salem:
[Q]:What covenant did you make with that man that came to you? What did he tell you?
[A]:He tell me he God and I must believe him and serve him six years and he would give me many fine things.
[Q]:Did you promise him then when he spake to you then? What did you answer him?
[A]:I then said this. I told him I could not believe him God and then he was glad.
(“The Second Examination of Tituba” 145/146)
Lastly, Chadwick Hansen’s suggestion that many accused victims were actual practicing witches should not go unnoticed; his most prominently discussed case is Bridget Bishop in whose house voodoo dolls with pins stuck in them were allegedly found.38 (cp. “Salem Witchcraft and DeForest’s Witching Times” 101)
The Salem witch trials thus “contributed to the end of John Winthrop’s dream of a polity that contained and embodied Puritan spiritual, legal, social, and educational ideals,” (Baker 8) the vision of being “A Model of Christian Charity” in the new promised land. While this community excludes anyone deviating from the Puritan faith – what John Neal terms the inherent illogic of “[t]he persecuted of to-day becom[ing] the persecutors of to-morrow” (Rachel Dyer 35)39 – in this seminal sermon from 1630, Winthrop envisions a society united in “love, mercy, gentleness, temperance” as well as “faith, patience, [and] obedience.” (“A Model of Christian Charity” 148) These “bonds of brotherly affection” (148) shall establish them “as a city upon a hill” with “[t]he eyes of all people” upon them; (158) a phrase referencing the Sermon on the Mount: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5:14) However, Winthrop warns, “if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.” (“Model” 158) The settlers’ covenant with God – an ideal community in exchange for their safe arrival in the new world – is not to be broken. Yet with the Puritan fervor declining in the late 1600s, “many feared the Puritan experiment was in danger of becoming irrelevant and perhaps ←36 | 37→even coming to an end. Such would have seemed impossible to imagine just a couple generations earlier […].” (Baker 43) What is more, the Puritan vision, as Sacvan Bercovitch points out, “fed on the distance between fact and promise. Anxiety became their chief means of establishing control. The errand, after all, was by definition a state of unfulfillment […].” (The Rites of Assent 34) Ministers such as Increase Mather and William Stoughton “began to preach jeremiads, reminding people of their mission and their covenant with God and telling them how far they had strayed from their path.” (Baker 49) Thus, when the witchcraft accusations broke out in Salem amid the above-mentioned political instabilities, it seemed that the Bay Company had dealt falsely with their God; Cotton Mather feared that “the witchcraft outbreak was part of a process that might bring the Puritan experiment to an end.” (201)
However, in the cultural memory, it is the accusers and persecutors who have made Salem a ‘story and a by-word through the world’. From the 19th century to the present, the literary depictions of what Longfellow termed “the tornado of fanaticism” (Giles Corey of the Salem Farms 62) have made Salem synonymous with the human abysses resulting from fear and hate; in Ann Rinaldi’s 1992 A Break with Charity, from which the epigraph to this chapter is taken, the title alone expresses the villagers’ abandonment of the community’s founding pillar. Rinaldi’s Phillip English, one of the most outspoken critics in Salem history, fittingly regards the belief in witchcraft as “the Puritan mind at its worst,” (80) and when protagonist Susanna describes Cotton Mather, she finds that he “looked like the very incarnation of evil, rather than a man of God.”40 (225)
As such, the discussed aspects, darkness, delusion, and divination, ironically reappear in literature, only in the inverted form: Salem is a place of darkness and delusion not because of tormenting witches and Satan’s strategic enticements, but because 20 innocent people were executed in the maelstrom of fear and confusion. Salem’s association with divination poses an exception, however. Despite belittling the superstitious mindset of their colonial forefathers, many authors have their characters perform actual witchcraft rituals. Rosenthal rightly states: “a problem endemic to stories about Salem” is “that of proclaiming the injustice of what happened, rejecting the idea of witchcraft, while at the same time keeping the titillation of witchcraft as a central motif.” (Salem Story 165) I will discuss one ←37 | 38→literary example for each of the three terms before discussing Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown” in which all elements meet.
In A Break with Charity Susanna English remembers that in 1692 “some darkness worse than night had been released upon us. And I alone knew the truth and could bring light into that darkness” (111) – as will be discussed in I.4., she is the only person who knows that the afflicted girls fake their torments which bring people to the gallows. This metaphorical opposition of light and darkness is frequently invoked in Salem literature, most prominently in Ebenezer Wheelwright’s 1842 The Salem Belle. The two-part structure of the novel41 underlines this contrast.
The Salem Belle tells the story of a love triangle: The title’s heroine, Mary, is a beautiful, pious young woman suited by two men: Walter Strale, her later husband, and Trellison, who eventually accuses Mary of witchcraft out of revenge for his rejected love.42 The two men are respectively associated with light and darkness. Walter is literally enlightened – he is an outsider from Virginia who has “no special love for the strict requirements of religion” (49) and strongly opposes the witchcraft accusations. In fact, Heike Hartrath suggests that due to Walter’s insinuated German heritage (cp. The Salem Belle 35) his last name, Strale, can be read as a telling name: the German word Strahl translates into ray or beam (cp. Fiktionalisierungen der Salemer Hexenprozesse 100). Salem native Trellison, on the other hand, “made high professions of religion” (The Salem Belle 57) and firmly believes in witches; eventually, his “dark machinations” (127) endanger Mary’s life. The two men are thus representatives of their home states, the warm economical South and the cold Puritan North. These character traits are also expressed in their respective choice of church: (out of an inclination to Mary) Walter worships at the South Church of Samuel Willard, whereas Trellison goes to the North Church of Cotton Mather. In the middle of the novel, with the witchcraft accusations well underway, chapter 9 and 10 juxtapose their oppositional sermons.←38 | 39→
Like his historical model,43 Samuel Willard is described as having a “calm and benevolent temper” (57) and he “publicly declared his dissent from the prevalent opinions” on witchcraft (108). Hence, the text of his sermon is “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God.”44 (110) He argues that “spiritual agencies for good and ill were constantly at work among men” but that “it was so difficult to define their nature, their peculiar offices, and the extent of their power, that it was our wisdom to avoid all speculation, except so far as was necessary to guard against practical error” (110) – Willard openly criticizes the belief in ‘spectral evidence’. Fittingly, Lyford, brother of Mary and friend of Walter, remarks after the service that “[i]t is good to see a little light in these dark days.” (112) Cotton Mather, on the other hand, is characterized by his “fervid zeal” (58) and his strong belief in a witches’ conspiracy – hence, the text chosen for his sermon is “For your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand. When the overflowing scourge shall pass by, ye shall be trodden down by it.”45 (113) Warning his congregation of Satan’s seductions, he declares that the community’s sins have “done much to provoke God, our rightful governor.” (116) Mather also interprets natural phenomena accordingly. In chapter 4 the main characters enjoy attending a party until an earthquake46 leaves the guests “wrapped in amazement and terror.” (63) Mather declares that it was “[t]he voice of a father telling us to hide in these chambers of his grace, ‘until the indignation be overpast’.”47 (63)
The omniscient narrator interprets this instance very differently; in fact, the severe winter weather serves as an extended metaphor of the “delusion which swept over the land” (26) throughout the novel. Already Walter’s arrival in Salem ←39 | 40→on the Sea Gull is complicated by a tempest, foreshadowing the approaching crisis:48
the clouds suddenly expanded, and stretched a curtain of terrific blackness from the western limit of the horizon to the extreme north; the air was now excessively sultry, and an ominous silence and gloom hung over the water; it was presently interrupted by a sharp flash of lightning, followed by a deafening peal of thunder. (40)
This metaphorical significance reappears when Lyford goes on a trip to Boston in chapter 7 and is hit by a snowstorm which had soon “increased to a furious tempest” (85) – the tempest mirrors the crisis in Salem. And when Lyford returns thither, he noticed that “a gloom was spread over the town,” (93/94) reflecting his sister’s accusation of witchcraft. When she is later scheduled to be hanged, “a strange and startling gloom had fallen upon a scene, which up to this period, had been radiant in the fairest forms of beauty and loveliness.” (173) This description holds true for both Mary and her hometown; the heroine becomes allegorical of the place: Mary’s “health and spirits were sinking under the strange excitement which pervaded the community at Salem and its neighborhood.” (103) But while her brother tries to persuade her to escape, Mary’s “eye of faith looked beyond the tempests of that awful night, whose fearful horrors thickened over her, and beheld the rising day of celestial glory.” (145) She is a Jesus-like figure (and is fittingly named after his mother) who does not leave the path of true religion, even when – underlining this reading – her “earliest and most intimate friend,” Miss Hallam, “was one of the first to forsake her.” (147) Wheelwright’s novel, as editor Richard Kopley states, thus makes a case for the clear distinction between true religion and light on the one hand and superstition and darkness on the other hand (cp. “Notes” 205)49 – indeed, Mary’s practice of “love and charity” among her fellow prisoners (The Salem Belle 133) ironically hastens her verdict. Eventually, Walter manages to rescue her from prison, escaping with her on the Water Witch to Virginia as Trellison publicly confesses to having wrongly accused Mary. With this ending, not only is the symbolic opposition between New England and Southern Virginia reinforced, but the two ships underline the overall contrast:50 The dark figure of the witch has replaced the light-colored ←40 | 41→seagull in Salem; the witch trials have overwritten Salem’s maritime heritage.51 However, as the narrator concludingly states, the image of the victims has significantly changed after 1692:
Time has lifted the veil; the storm of reproach has passed away; the shadows of the invisible world, in which they were seen to move as dark and mysterious forms enlisted in the service of Satan, and doing his will, have given place to the sunshine of Reason and Truth. The white robes of innocence and virtue now adorn them in the eye of every beholder, and that foul stain stamps with its darkest hues, the memories of Stoughton, Sewall, Gedney, and Cotton Mather. (153, emphasis mine)
With the Enlightenment, the ‘sunshine of Reason and Truth’ has replaced the Puritans’ dark superstitions; the victims and their perpetrators have, as shown before, changed places in the cultural memory.
Before moving on to the next term, I shall address Richard Kopley’s vital finding that The Salem Belle has significantly influenced Hawthorne’s most famous work. In The Threads of The Scarlet Letter, he minutely compares the two romances set in Puritan New England, both of which tell the story of a publicly shamed young woman whose heartfelt charity contrasts with the villagers’ feigned religious candor. Kopley writes:
Three passages in the final third of The Salem Belle anticipate passages in the final third of The Scarlet Letter: James’s effort, in the forest, to persuade Mary to escape; the presence of the escape ship in the town harbor; and the confession of Trellison at the scaffold. (84)
And although the rejected admirer Trellison survives while Hester’s lover dies, in both works “a guilty man perceived to be innocent ascends the scaffold at noon and speaks to the townspeople, denying or diminishing a woman’s sin, confessing his own sin […].” (88) No other literary work has so persistently shaped the image of the “stern and black-browed Puritans” (The Scarlet Letter 10) in “sad-colored garments” (47) whose intolerance and bigotry have destroyed the vision of Christian charity. In fact, as Nancy L. Schultz rightly states, oftentimes readers thus “mistakenly assume that The Scarlet Letter is set in Salem.” (“Salem as Hawthorne’s Creation” 170) That Wheelwright’s novel had such a decisive role in shaping the 1850 classic poses a vital contribution to scholarship on Salem literature, proving that Hawthorne’s misattributed Salem story indeed has some of its origins in the ‘Salem story’.←41 | 42→
Giles Corey’s fatal suspicion of his wife Martha is one of the most tragic examples of someone being deluded into false confession: “he spoke of the sudden illness of his ox and pet cat and described how his wife would stay up late at night and kneel by the fireplace as if in prayer but he never heard her recite any prayers.” (Rebecca Beatrice Brooks: “The Witchcraft Trial of Giles Corey” n.pag.) Later, he was himself accused of witchcraft and had evidently changed his mind about his wife: he recanted his previous testimony, and famously ‘stayed mute’ at his trial.52 His revoked accusation and his quiet protest were to no avail, however: both Giles and Martha were executed. In The Crucible Giles Corey thus fittingly regrets that he has “broke charity” with his wife.53 (117)
John W. DeForest’s 1856 Witching Times features a (fictional) character whose fate is equally tragic, Deacon John Bowson. The novel tells a story strikingly similar to The Salem Belle:54 Rachel More, new to Salem and daughter of one of the most outspoken critics of the witchcraft accusations, is accused of witchcraft by a rejected suitor, Elder Noyse, who also serves as ‘spiritual adviser’ to Rachel’s uncle John Bowson. Over the course of the novel, Bowson turns from a self-conscious but loving family man to a religious zealot who not only endangers and eventually destroys his family but brings about his own decline.
When Rachel and her father Henry More arrive in Salem after More has spent 25 years in England, they are greeted by his sister and his brother-in-law with whom they reside during the first weeks. John Bowson is introduced as having “a very humble opinion of himself in comparison with his newly found relatives.” (34/35) And while his dress “formed a combination of sumptuousness very superior to the cheap simplicity of More’s apparel,” (35) his behavior (“comical grin of embarrassment”, 34) mirrors his cognitive inferiority; he is “fearful […] of ←42 | 43→More’s superior intellect.” (110) At the end of chapter 1 (set in September 1691) a comical scene foreshadows the tragic events: The Bowson’s family dog, Frisk, has a habit of beginning to howl whenever a verse is sung in the household. Thus, Bowson fearfully exclaims: “I think, now and then, that he must be a creetur of Satan, sent a purpose to disturb Christian duty in our family.” (38) Yet it is ironically Bowson’s behavior that disturbs the ‘Christian duty in the family’.
For despite Bowson’s deep respect for his brother-in-law, his true admiration is bestowed upon the religious elite in Salem, especially Elder Noyse, one of the most relentless persecutors of witches. Rational Henry More thus grows increasingly impatient with “Bowson’s credulity and cowardice” (105) while Bowson becomes incrementally obsessed with religious fervor and the idea “that he must not only deliver his own soul but strive personally to rescue from destruction the souls of his neighbors.” (114) He even volunteers to take in an afflicted child, Sarah Carrier,55 and to cure her by religious indoctrination. The omniscient narrator comments:
The frenzy, as of delirium tremens, which was stealing upon the community and transforming to all excitable imaginations the most familiar and harmless objects into monsters of strange abomination, found an unresisting prey in simple John Bowson. The terror of superstition perpetually haunted him, at first, vaguely and intermittently, but growing ever more positive and continuous in its persecution. (114)
His change in nature is soon also reflected in his outward appearance: he “had lost flesh, and was almost always melancholy.” (243) Elder Noyse, however, menacingly keeps exploiting Bowson to take revenge for Rachel’s rejection, making him gradually turn against his own family. When Henry More is accused of and later imprisoned for witchcraft, Bowson at first tries to appeal to judge Corwin on the behalf of his brother-in-law, but the conversation with the judges “entirely altered the persuasion of John Bowson and sent him away perfectly convinced of More’s guilt in respect to sorcery.” (207) And after More has been executed and Rachel is accused of witchcraft, Bowson begins to believe he has married into a “family of witches,” (262) convinced of his niece’s guilt. He even “would have nothing to do with his wife now but made her keep to separate rooms and eat alone ‘because, forsooth, she came of a breed naturally magical and dangerous’.” (267) Finally, he even turns “unobservant of his mother’s exit” (328) despite living in the same household.
Bowson’s paranoia eventually culminates in his dissolution. While studying ‘afflicted’ Sarah Carrier and reading “satanic literature until near midnight,” ←43 | 44→(269) “the last rung of his craziness was reached, and he imagined that he had himself become a wizard” (267) – the demarcation lines between God and Satan, as in Tituba’s confession, have been dissolved. But when he leaves for a ‘witch meeting’ (269) on a broomstick, Samuel Parris and Judge Corwin happen to ride by, and he is arrested. Despite having strived so fervidly to be of help to the Salem officials, Bowson ironically “was so evidently lunatic now and his confessions so clearly unworthy of any sane attention, that each of our leading inquisitors had already come to a pretty distinct conclusion that it would be best to drop him altogether as a witness.” (284) At the end of the novel, Bowson has lost his family and his community standing: “deprived of his deaconship,” he “wandered lamentably about the streets, much ridiculed and persecuted by mischievous urchins.” (313) And even though he returns to being “completely cowed by the solid, vigorous rationality of the minds about him” after the trials are over and Rachel has returned to Salem (334) – like Mary in The Salem Belle, she is rescued to Virginia before her scheduled execution – Bowson remains a physical presence only:
All this time, poor John Bowson, once so gay and loquacious on festive occasions, sat quiet and silent in that timidity which often marks an unhinged spirit. None of the family spoke to him for fear of striking out from his weak brain some absurd spark of lunacy. (333)
John Bowson, I argue, whose tragic deterioration is skillfully outlined over the course of DeForest’s ‘Salem story’, is an understudied literary character whose physical and mental health are surrendered in the witchcraft delusion.
Longfellow’s 1868 Giles Corey of the Salem Farms opens to an exposition set in “[t]he woods near Salem Village” where Tituba is seen “with a basket of herbs.” (3) She is searching for “monk’s-hood, that breeds fever in the blood; And deadly nightshade, that makes men see ghosts; And hensbane, that will shake them with convulsions […]” to claim power “[o]ver all men and women.” (3) In particular, she can make the village girls “see and talk with ghosts, Or fall into a delirium and convulsions.” (4) Her powers, she claims, are inherited from her father, an Obi man from San Salvador (cp. 13) and she uses them to “work vengeance on [her] enemies” who, “while they call [her] slave, are slaves to [her].” (4) Longfellow’s Tituba appears thus not as an innocent target of the girls but surprisingly identifies as a born witch with real evil powers. Giles Corey’s friend Gardner, on the other hand, characterizes her as simply another “[p]oor soul” who has succumbed to the witch craze; her “[r]ed shirt with grotesque black ←44 | 45→and yellow figures sewed on”56 (75) could thus be read as a visual expression of her deluded state of mind. Yet the opportunity to leave her inferior social position which Tituba attributes to witchcraft (and thus teaches to Mary Walcot) shall not go unnoticed; witchcraft is making her “wiser than the scholar with his books.” (3) As will be readdressed in chapter I.4., this sentiment poses a parallel to Wilkins Freeman’s Giles Corey, Yeoman where servant Nancy and orphan girl Phoebe use voodoo dolls to take revenge on their masters.
Yet hardly any other work has shaped the association of Salem and the real practice of the dark arts so lastingly as Miller’s The Crucible. With the play opening to an unconscious and deranged Betty Parris, the reader/spectator watches Samuel Parris sensing the cause of his daughter’s deposition early: the night before, he witnessed the girls around his daughter and niece “dancing like heathen in the forest” (20) and even saw “someone naked running through the trees” (22) – Mercy Lewis, as is revealed later. (cp. 32) The girls were not alone, however: Perpetuating the myth of Tituba’s instruction of the girls, Parris also saw Tituba “waving her arms over the fire”, “swaying like a dumb beast” with “screeching and gibberish coming from her mouth.” (21) This observation is fatal for Tituba, for when more damning evidence emerges – a kettle with boiling chicken blood and a live frog in it (cp. 67/68) – she becomes the girls’ scapegoat, allegedly having seduced them into darkness; the space of the forest fittingly frames the satanic ritual. Her appeals to the contrary (“you beg me to conjure! [Abigail] beg me make charm”, 69) are to no avail. Unlike Longfellow’s character, it is not Tituba who claims inaccessible power through witchcraft, but the teenage girls: they did not only ask Tituba to “conjure Ruth’s sisters to come out of the grave” (32) but Abby “drank blood,” “a charm to kill Goody Proctor.” (34) As will be discussed in I.3. and I.4., Miller’s play has explained the Salem witch trials with an affair that never happened, and the girls’ textbook satanic ritual (for which there is no historical proof either) has lastingly linked the place of Salem with real (women’s) witchcraft practice. In fact, while (or because) the image of witchcraft has changed significantly for the positive in recent decades, in Adriana Mather’s 2016 How to Hang a Witch, to name just one example, a circle of girls around protagonist Samantha still conjures the dead in Salem’s woods, corroborating the lasting connection.←45 | 46→
Hawthorne’s depiction of (Salem’s) Puritan past is unique in its critical view and narrative depth; he, too, frequently invokes color symbolisms. In The Scarlet Letter, the “black flower of civilized society, a prison” stands in contrast to the “wild rose-bush” – symbolic of Hester, “one of its flowers,” whose love and passion57 contrast the Puritan rigidity but whose story contains “some sweet moral blossom.” (48) Those born in the narrated time of the 1640s – the adults of 1692 – even “wore the blackest shade of Puritanism, and so darkened the national visage with it, that all subsequent years have not sufficed to clear it up.” (232) In “Alice Doane’s Appeal,” too, Salem is characterized as the place “where superstition won her darkest triumph.” (267) Of course, the curse in The House of the Seven Gables is equally symbolic of the long shadow of the dark Puritan past. Yet while “Alice Doane’s Appeal” and Hawthorne’s Salem romance will be dealt with in their entirety later, I shall here discuss his most frequently anthologized short story in which the three previously discussed elements meet.
Opening in medias res, already the first sentence sets the tone of the tale: “Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset into the street at Salem village.” (74) The place of Salem indicates the topic of Puritan sin, and the sunset is emblematic of the literal and metaphorical darkness taking over the soul of the young protagonist on his journey. Brown is hesitant to go – he “put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife,” the first sentence continues; and Faith urges him to “put off [his] journey until sunrise.” (74) Yet he insists that “of all nights in the year,” his journey “must needs be done ‘twixt now and sunrise;” (74) it is vital that it takes place in the dark. The newlyweds exchange parting blessings (“Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee”, 75) and Brown eventually leaves.58 However, their choice of words foreshadows approaching calamity; especially Faith’s wish that her husband will find “all well when [he] come[s] back” (74) is bitterly ironic regarding Brown’s eventual return as a broken man. Moreover, not only Brown’s feeling that his wife behaved “as if a dream had warned her what work is to be ←46 | 47→done tonight” but his resolution that “after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven” indicate what Brown soon confirms: he leaves for an unchristian “evil purpose.” (75) At “the corner by the meeting-house” he looks back one more time, seeing “the head of Faith still peeping after him with a melancholy air, in spite of her pink ribbons.” (75, emphasis mine) The pink ribbons of Faith’s cap, associated with her young age, her femininity, and her sweet nature, seem at odds with her sadness. Yet it will be seen that this sole outward characteristic of Brown’s wife59 takes on the most important symbolic function of the story.
The meetinghouse, representative of Puritan civilization in general and Salem’s community culture in particular, stands in stark opposition to the lonesome wilderness Brown then enters, especially the chronotopos of “a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind.” (75) Here, Christian virtues and people like Brown’s angelic wife are absent while the “howling of the wild beasts” (83) is symbolic of dark, primal instincts reigning in the forest. In fact, Brown fears that “[t]here may be a devilish Indian behind every tree,” or, even worse, “[w]hat if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!” (75) And – talk of the devil, and he is bound to appear – Brown now beholds “the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire, seated at the foot of an old tree.” (75) The man has been waiting for Brown: “You are late, Goodman Brown,” he greets him. (75) Brown’s reply, then, is heavy with meaning: “Faith kept me back a while.” (76) From now on, it is inevitable to read his wife as an allegory; Brown’s journey will be a test of his faith. And while it was sunset when Brown left Salem – the time between day and night being metaphorical of the battle between good and evil – “it was now deep dusk in the forest, and deepest in that part of it where these two were journeying.” (76) Indeed, many details indicate that the ominous companion is ‘the devil himself’: he has traveled curiously quickly from Boston to Salem in only 15 minutes (cp. 75), he has “the air of someone who knew the world” (76) – i.e., who knows of evil in the world – and though outwardly inconspicuous, he is carrying a staff “which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent.” (76) The Biblical serpent, seducing Eve into eating from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, reinforces his role.
This staff is then offered to Brown to further hasten his journey into darkness, and though he is again hesitant (“Too far! too far!”, 76) Brown is not only ←47 | 48→forced to acknowledge his own sinful nature but also that of his forefathers – foreshadowed by the narrator’s comment that his devilish companion himself bears “a considerable resemblance to him”; “they might have been taken for father and son.” (76) Brown is ashamed to disgrace his family, “a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs” (77) by meeting with his “Friend” (as he notably now calls him, 76), but the latter claims to be “as well acquainted with [Brown’s] family as with ever a one among the Puritans;” (77) in fact, he has participated in all the evil the young nation has committed so far. He has helped Brown’s grandfather “when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem” and he has assisted Brown’s father “set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip’s war.” (77) But unlike the young protagonist who returns utterly disillusioned from the forest, his forefathers, he is told, always “returned merrily after midnight.” (77) Moreover, the devil tells him, “the deacons of many a church have drunk the communion wine with me;” he is well acquainted even with the governor. (77) Brown cannot believe anyone could be so two-faced – he would “tremble” in church afterward – but his companion can only break out into “irrepressible mirth” at such ingeniousness; his evil laughter, “Ha! ha! ha!”, rolls ominously through the forest. (78)
As if to prove his previous point, Brown now sees Goody Cloyse, “a very pious and exemplary old dame” who serves as his “moral and spiritual adviser,” on the path before him. (78) While Brown, still convinced of her good nature and hence watching her from a distance, marvels that she is moving “with singular speed for so aged a woman, and mumbling some indistinct words – a prayer, doubtless,”60 (79) she, too, is unmistakably on an evil errand:
The traveler put forth his staff and touched her withered neck with what seemed the serpent’s tail.
‘The devil!’ screamed the pious old lady.
’Then Goody Cloyse knows her old friend?’ (79)
She even confirms that the devil has appeared “in the very image of [her] old gossip, Goodman Brown, the grandfather of the silly fellow that now is” (79) – explaining the aforementioned resemblance. Cloyse also complains to the devil that while she was already anointed with flying ointment, her broomstick “hath strangely disappeared, stolen, as I suspect, by that unhanged witch, Goody ←48 | 49→Cory” – hence her speedy walk; she does not want to miss “a nice young man [being] taken into communion tonight.” (79) Both Cloyse and Cory refer to real persons accused (and in the case of Cory61) hanged in 1692. That Hawthorne’s Sarah Cloyse,62 herself on the way to a satanic gathering, accuses the ‘unhanged witch’ Martha Cory of having stolen her broomstick is thus deeply ironic, but it adds to Brown’s growing inability to differentiate between good and evil – “’That old woman taught me my catechism,’ said the young man; and there was a world of meaning in this simple comment.” (80)
After Cloyse has disappeared by using the devil’s walking stick, Brown is again alone with him. However, now the evil companion was “discoursing so aptly that his arguments seemed rather to spring up in the bosom of his auditor than to be suggested by himself” (80) – Brown himself is turning evil. The devil makes a new makeshift walking stick for Brown from a tree branch: he “began to strip it of the twigs and little boughs, which were wet with evening dew,” but, literally drawing all vigor away, “[t]he moment his fingers touched them they became strangely withered and dried up as with a week’s sunshine.”63 (80) Yet Brown refuses to go further, the devil leaves him the walking stick and disappears. He is not alone for long, however: Soon he witnesses the minister and Deacon Gookin riding along – or seems to witness; “neither the travelers nor their steeds were visible.” (81) Their voices, however, are revealing: Brown learns that people from as far away as Connecticut and Rhode Island will meet in the forest, “besides several of the Indian pow-wows” who notably “know almost as much deviltry as the best of us,” the deacon says. (81) But most importantly, “there is a goodly young woman to be taken into communion,” (81) the minister himself is responsible for her initiation. After hearing this, Brown “looked up to the sky, doubting whether there really was a heaven above him” (82) – the distinction between sky and heaven is vital here.
For it is this very space which throws Brown into utter madness: as a “black mass of cloud” blurs his vision of the sky (and of heaven), he seems to hear not only voices of people “both pious and ungodly” emerging from this cloud but a “swell of familiar voices, heard daily in the sunshine at Salem village, but never until now from a cloud of night” (82) – the parallelism reinforces the overall ←49 | 50→contrast between civilization and wilderness,64 between light and darkness. Eventually, he believes to discern Faith’s voice, yet before he can answer her, the “dark cloud swept away,” and with it the voices. (83) However, Brown beholds a pink ribbon “flutter[ing] lightly down through the air.” (83) His reaction to this ‘evidence’ reinforces Faith’s allegorical function: “’My Faith is gone!’ cried he, after one stupefied moment. ‘There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to thee is this world given.’” (83)
“[M]addened with despair” as the road has literally led him into “the heart of the dark wilderness,” Brown now “grasps his staff and set forth again, at such a rate that he seemed to fly along the forest path rather than to walk or run,” and he is “giving vent to an inspiration of horrid blasphemy” – he has now become the devil, his alter ego all along. (83/84) In fact, “all through the haunted forest there could [now] be nothing more frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown,” and mirroring the devil’s laughter at the beginning of Brown’s journey, “’Ha! ha! ha!’ roared Goodman Brown when the wind laughed at him.” (83) He eventually reaches his destination when he sees “a red light before him,” (84) revealing what the ‘black mass of cloud’ has already foreshadowed through the homophony of the word mass (German Messe/Masse): complementing the ‘cumulative concept of witchcraft’ he sees a textbook witches’ sabbath in which every element of a traditional church service has been inverted: “the wind tolled like a distant church bell,” (83) he notices a rock “bearing some rude, natural resemblance either to an altar or a pulpit, and surrounded by four blazing pines […] like candles at an evening meeting” (84) and he perceives a hymn, a “familiar one in the choir of the village meeting-house,”(84) yet the words “expressed all that our nature can conceive of sin.” (85) Indeed, “[a]s the red light arose and fell, a numerous congregation alternately shone forth, then disappeared in shadow […].” (84, emphasis mine) This “grave and dark-clad company,” as the protagonist describes them, seems to behold “a score of the church members of Salem village famous for their especial sanctity” but also Indian priests as well as “men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches given over to all mean and filthy vice, and suspected even of horrid crimes” (84/85) – the boundaries between good and evil have been utterly dissolved. Hawthorne again alludes to Salem history here: For the group also contains “fair young girls, who trembled lest their mother should espy them” – a parallel to Miller’s later depiction – and, ←50 | 51→the narrator recounts, “[s]ome affirm that the lady of the governor was there,”65 a reference to the afflicted girls’ boldest accusation. (85) The minister sums up Brown’s experience: “Ye deemed [the assembled] holier than yourselves, and shrank from your own sin, contrasting it with their lives of righteousness and prayerful aspirations heavenward” while they are guilty of sexual harassment, greed, murder, and infanticide. (87)
Thus, when the conductor of the black mass appears under a “glowing arch” and summons the congregation to “[b]ring forth the converts” Brown can no longer resist, especially as his parents seem to lure him: “Goodman Brown stepped forth from the shadow of the trees and approached the congregation, with whom he felt a loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart.” (86) The other convert is “the slender form of a veiled female, led between Goody Cloyse, that pious teacher of the catechism, and Martha Carrier, who had received the devil’s promise to be queen of hell. A rampant hag was she” (86) – Hawthorne uses Cotton Mather’s characterization of another famous victim here.66 Now there is no more doubt about what was foreshadowed over the course of the story: Brown and Faith are to be taken into communion by the welcoming group of sinners, to see that “Evil is the nature of mankind,” to nourish “the fountain of all wicked arts,” and “to look upon each other” and detect their respective sins. (87/88) The wording now does not only reference a mass, but a horrid wedding ceremony: “the wretched man beheld his Faith, and the wife her husband, trembling before that unhallowed altar.” (87)
While the reader has followed Brown’s gradual descent into evil, Faith’s presence seems incongruent with her angelic nature. However, her ambivalence is initially indicated: “a lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she’s afeard of herself sometimes,” she says to stop her husband from leaving home (74, emphasis mine) – she, too, aims to repress evil thoughts. Most telling, however, are her pink ribbons: As she lets “the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap” (74) she metaphorically risks being seduced – for the wind, having replaced the church bell at the mass, is associated with evil. Indeed, the color pink, a fusion of white and red, itself expresses that both character traits ←51 | 52→are inherent in her: while white symbolizes her innocence, red symbolizes sin, danger, and immorality – and besides black, red is the most prominent color in the depicted forest.67 Eva Heller writes in Wie Farben Wirken: “the combination of red and black reveals the opposite of love, the color of hate. Hence, the devil wears red and black.” (54, translation mine) Brown’s name is telling, too: for the color brown, containing black and red itself, is not only associated with mediocrity and conformism (cp. 204), Brown’s public identity as a “simple husbandman.” (“Young Goodman Brown” 77) It is also symbolic of rottenness, i.e. his private wickedness. Heller elaborates: “morally speaking, brown is worse than gray, for unlike gray, brown lacks a white component. As the darkest color blend, brown is a color of evil, the bad, the guilt.” (Wie Farben Wirken 201, translation mine) As such, the protagonist’s name alone, ‘Goodman Brown’, his inherited tainted last name and the Puritan form of address, expresses the clash of public and private identity, and his battle between good and evil. This battle is then also highlighted in the last part of the ceremony: “And there they stood, the only pair, as it seemed, who were yet hesitating on the verge of wickedness in this dark world,” referencing Adam and Eve on the verge of the Fall of Man.68 (“Young Goodman Brown” 88) And indeed, before they can be baptized – it is unsure whether the basin contains water, blood or a ‘liquid flame’ – Brown urges Faith to “look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one.” (88)
With this sentence, the depiction of the witches’ sabbath ends, and “[w]hether Faith obeyed, he knew not.” (88) All of a sudden, Brown finds himself “amid calm night and solitude.” (88) He is still in the forest, he even staggers against ‘the rock’ but “felt it chill and damp; while a hanging twig, that had been all on fire, besprinkled his cheek with the coldest dew” (88) – the parallelism underlines the contrast to his experience just moments before.69 It is left up to the reader to decide upon what has happened: “Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting? Be it so if you will.” (89) As David Levin demonstrates in “Shadows of Doubt: Specter Evidence in ‘Young Goodman Brown’” (347–350), there are many passages which indicate ←52 | 53→that Brown did indeed dream or imagine the events: The devil appears as suddenly (when Brown turns his head) as he disappears again: he is “as speedily out of sight as if he had vanished into the deepening gloom.” (“Young Goodman Brown” 80) The same holds true for Goody Cloyse whom the devil seems to have conjured up to prove his point; she too disappears again just as quickly. (79/80) When Brown hears the voices of Deacon Gookin and the minister, neither the travelers nor their steeds were visible,” (81) and when he seems to discern voices coming from the black cloud, “so indistinct were the sounds, he doubted whether he had heard aught but the murmur of the old forest.” (82) Eventually, “[a]s the red light arose and fell” at the mass, “a numerous congregation alternately shone forth, then disappeared in shadow,” (84, my emphasis) and “shapes and visages of horror” appear on the smoke wreaths (86). Of course, the hell-like vision of the ceremony with the summit of the rock being “all on fire” (84) is dream-like in scope and nature. These impressions are contrasted with the seeming rationality of the omniscient narrator. Regarding the life-like appearance of the devil’s serpentine staff, he finds that “this, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light” (76) and he attributes Brown’s perception of the bodiless riders “doubtless to the depth of the gloom at that particular spot.” (81)
Yet it is eventually of little importance at which point Brown might have fallen asleep. Maybe he even dreamed the whole episode, a dream within a dream, to use Poe’s words. But it is vital how the narrator’s explanatory sentence continues: “But alas! It was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown.” (89) For he comes back into the village “slowly” and as a “bewildered man,” (88) seeing only sin and evil everywhere he goes. He cannot bear to hear hymns and sermons anymore and he shrinks from the minister, Deacon Gookin, and Goody Cloyse, even from his wife: When he “spied the head of Faith, with the pink ribbons” – she is still wearing them – he does not return her warm welcome but “looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting.” (89) Brown’s fate is best summed up in the alliterative enumeration of the narrator: “A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream,”70 and when he dies many decades later, “they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying ←53 | 54→hour was gloom.” (89/90) Brown’s confusing journey, following the classic structure of departure – journey – return, is a journey of initiation: he is, after all, Young Goodman Brown, a “figure of innocence, uncorrupted by the complexity of life and unschooled in the vagaries of human nature” who is confronted with the existence of evil in the world (James Nagel: The American Short Story Handbook 177). In fact, both he and Faith are addressed as ‘children’ three times during the dark ceremony, and I want to add to my previous color analysis that pink is also associated with (female) childhood and naivety (cp. Heller 119), and brown with stupidity (cp. 208). Brown’s initiation fails accordingly: he is unable to “accept human weakness,” (Nagel 68) or the possibility thereof, in himself and others. In Hawthorne’s Historical Allegory, John E. Becker writes that as “a representative of Puritanism,” Brown thus shows
the helplessness of Puritan faith to deal successfully with the universality of evil. What Hawthorne is saying is that to those who insist, as do the Puritans that the world be seen as black and white, blackness is the vision that will prevail. The fault is with the Puritan view of life, not with the strength of the hero. (19)
It is central to my analysis that Brown’s experience bears a strong resemblance to Bowson’s fate in Witching Times three decades later.71 When Brown has meaningfully declared that his “Faith is gone” he is “maddened with despair,” he is now “the chief horror of the scene” as “[t]he fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man.” (“Young Goodman Brown” 83/84) Brown is utterly deluded, just like Bowson, whose “last rung of his craziness was reached” when he “imagined that he had himself become a wizard” and leaves for a sabbath in the woods. (Witching Times 267) Brown also abandons his own family and, after 1692, becomes a physical presence in his house only. And as such, Hawthorne’s protagonist, too, is representative of the people who succumbed to the fear and madness of the Salem witch trials; he is, as Clark states, “the man whom a weird experience has turned against his neighbors, of whom Goody Cloyce is representative.” (The Tradition of Salem Witchcraft in American Literature 122) Indeed, Levin reads Brown’s whole journey as a demonstration of the fatal belief in spectral evidence, as the protagonist “fails to insist on the difference between a persona and the person’s ‘shape,’ or specter.” (“Shadows of Doubt” 344) Therefore, Clark adds, “[w]hen Brown returns home in the morning and sees Faith wearing her ribbons, he takes them as proof of her guilt, not as evidence which might be useful in impugning his suspicion of her.” ←54 | 55→(The Tradition of Salem Witchcraft 125) Hawthorne’s story thus takes its direct origin in 17th-century witchcraft belief; a passage related in Baker’s A Storm of Witchcraft significantly resembles Brown’s experience: “there were many stories dating from medieval times about travelers encountering a person with preternatural knowledge of their activities – perhaps the devil – on a road near the end of a trip, and being tempted.” (130) And in the accusations and confessions in 1692 numerous people reported witnessing witches’ sabbaths; most drastically shown in the “detailed confession of William Barker of Andover, who reported a meeting of over 300 witches.” (Boyer and Nissenbaum 189) Of course, most famous are the reports of the afflicted girls who even dared to accuse Mary Phips, the ‘lady of the governor’ (hence the reference). Hawthorne also includes the confusion inherent in these confessions: like Tituba who cannot distinguish between God and the Devil, the conductor of the black mass in “Young Goodman Brown” “bore no slight similitude, both in garb and manner, to some grave divine of the New England churches.” (86)
However, the story does not only reference real villagers’ confessions and accusations, but also the views of Salem’s religious elite, especially Cotton Mather. As Clark points out, the depictions in the story “conform generally to Cotton Mather’s accounts of witch meetings in the forest, which Hawthorne knew from Magnalia Christi.” (The Tradition of Salem Witchcraft 122) And Levin rightly states that Brown’s uncertainty about the night’s events calls to mind Mather’s famous speech at the execution of George Burroughs (cp. “Shadows of Doubt” 346), indeed a ‘divine of the New England churches’. Marilynne K. Roach describes how, despite much doubt about Burroughs’ guilt, Mather declared that “the Devil often had been transformed into an angel of light,” (The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-to-Day Chronicle 243) thereby justifying the minister’s execution. Levin thus finds that the question for Brown is not whether he dreamed the witch meeting, but “whether the Devil, when he took on their shapes, had their permission to represent them.” (“Shadows of Doubt” 352) Hawthorne strongly criticizes the Puritan error in judgment during the witch trials, the ‘fiend’ raging in Salem’s self-righteous citizens, but even more so the religious leaders in charge of the persecutions; he “condemns that graceless perversion of true Calvinism.” (352)
It should last, but not least be added that Young Goodman Brown can also be interpreted as an allegory of the young American nation and their advance into the wilderness; especially the reference to violence against Quakers and Native Americans supports this reading. In Hawthorne’s 19th century, the American nation was, like Brown, only “coming to its first maturity”, as Matthiessen put it in The American Renaissance (vii) and, pursuing this reading, needed to accept their own potential for evil. And Hawthorne demonstrates that this evil was not ←55 | 56→witchcraft, but what Winthrop’s founding vision had turned into in 1692 – after all, the rock on which the black mass takes place and the fire which is “illuminating the whole field” (“Young Goodman Brown” 84) is a deeply ironic inversion of the city upon a hill attracting ‘the eyes of all people.’ Schultz puts in a nutshell what this chapter has shown: “One significant idea that Hawthorne’s Salem represents, then, is that of a satanic space that emerged from a sacred space, as the memory of Gallows Hill crowded out the Puritan ‘citty upon a Hill.’” (“Salem as Hawthorne’s Creation” 165) Throughout my study, this literary image of Salem will guide my analysis, even concerning a much more mundane motif like the significance of real estate disputes for the development of the Salem trials, which shall be discussed next.
14Sollée enumerates exemplarily the “Sumerian tales of Inanna”, the “Egyptian legends of Isis” and the “Hindu myths of Kali.” (Witches, Sluts, Feminists 21)
15In fact, unlike the Inquisition, the persecutions were carried out by more secular than religious leaders.
16Lori Lee Wilson points out that Eve was thus later seen as an illustration of “the corruption that befalls the man who is ‘ruled by his wife’.” (The Salem Witch Trials. How History is Invented 79)
17All Biblical references in this book are taken from the King James Version.
18As the exact number of victims is being debated by historians to this day, figures differ from source to source, ranging between 50.000 and 200.000. However, scholars largely agree on the percentage of women, usually estimated to have been between 75 and 85 percent (cp. Sollée 27). The claim made by some feminist authors (e.g. Gage; Ehrenreich & English) that 9 million women were put to death has been historically refuted.
19Midwives are explicitly mentioned in the ‘Witch Hammer’ as being allied with the devil: they “surpass all others in evil.” (112) For more information on the relation between witches and midwives, see Sollée’s chapter “The Midwife: Bestial Bodies & Reproductive Rights” (which also discusses the state of female bodily autonomy in contemporary America). See also Ehrenreich & English: Witches, Midwives and Nurses (1973) which, however, has been viewed critically by later scholars (such as Diane Purkiss) for its one-sided discussion of the persecutions.
20In fact, Robinson points out that William Griggs, the doctor who diagnosed the Parris girls as bewitched, was “instrumental in having Elizabeth Proctor arrested for witchcraft; she had been dispensing medicine which proved more effective than his own. Testimony against Elizabeth Proctor claimed that she was responsible for a man’s death because Dr. Griggs had not been sent for to give him medicine.” (Salem Witchcraft 93)
21It is interesting to note that philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) thought that ‘witches’ were ‘insane’ and thus “candidates for the asylum rather than the courtroom.” (qtd. in Chadwick Hansen: “Salem Witchcraft and DeForest’s Witching Times” 94)
22Günter Jerouschek points out that black magic was already a crime under Roman Law and considered to be carried out by women only. (cp. “Hexenangst und Hexenverfolgung” 84)
23Kramer (Lat. Henricus Institoris), however, was heavily criticized and temporarily banned from the diocese by bishop Georg Golser who did not approve of Kramer’s views on witchcraft. It is thus important to note that also within ‘the church’, opinions on witchcraft differed extremely.
24Sprenger’s contribution is contested. The edition I use (ed. Christopher S. Mackay, 2006) cites him as an author, however.
25Incubi and Succubi are demons forcing themselves on women, respectively men: “Sometimes demons appeared to persons in the forms of their spouses or lovers. […] Incubi were especially attracted to women with beautiful hair, young virgins, chaste widows and all ‘devout’ females. […] Incubi were believed to have the ability to impregnate women. […] Incubi were believed to be always visible to witches but only occasionally visible to others – even the victims. […] Husbands, however, commonly saw Incubi as they copulated with their wives but thought they were other men. […] Succubi could appear in the flesh as beautiful, voluptuous women […]. They usually visited men in their sleep […].” (Guiley: The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft 92–93)
26The witches’ sabbath poses a parallel to the description of peasant worshippers of the goddess Diana and their orgies, (cp. Wilson 14) reinforcing the link between paganism and witchcraft.
27Hence, in Salem, too, “[t]he court also paid close attention to any ointments or oils in the homes of the witches.” (Baker 187) In Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” Goody Cloyse describes being “all anointed with the juice of smallage, and cinquefoil, and wolf’s bane.” (79) For more on the history and recipes of ‘flying ointment’, see Guiley: 253–255.
28In Wilkins Freeman’s Giles Corey, Yeoman, the Coreys’ broomstick turns from a device charged with supernatural powers (cp. 13) back to a household object after Olive Corey has been acquitted of the witchcraft charge (cp. 50).
29See also Johanna Schmeller: “Was der Sex zum Hexenwahn beitrug.”
30To name only a few, Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, Johann Weyer, Adam Tanner, Friedrich von Spree, Balthasar Bekker, Christian Thomasius, Reginald Scot. Baker writes that Daemonologie was written ”as a response to Scot and other doubters.” (A Storm of Witchcraft 258)
31The Massachusetts Bay Colony lacked a charter between 1684 and 1691. The new charter of 1692 guaranteed freedom of worship, a decisive factor in the region’s fatal turmoil.
32For the possible socio-economic motives behind the accusations of Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good, see Boyer and Nissenbaum: Salem Possessed 193/194, 203/204.
33Historians, however, believe that the association is incorrect, and that Bridget Bishop was confused with tavern keeper Sarah Bishop. (cp. Sollée 104)
34The clothing rules reflect the repressive societal rules; in fact, “[t]he first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony tried to pass a law requiring that women wear veils in public.” (Andersen: Fantasyland 29)
35For a detailed discussion of Tituba’s ancestry, see Chadwick Hansen’s 1974 essay “The Metamorphosis of Tituba, or Why American Intellectuals Can’t Tell an Indian Witch from a Negro”. See also: Elaine G. Breslaw: Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem. Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies (1996).
36Robert Calef writes in More Wonders of the Invisible World that “[t]he account [Tituba] since gives of it is, that her master did beat her and otherways abuse her, to make her confess and accuse […].” (repr. in Hill: The Salem Witch Trials Reader 61)
37Baker points out how the ‘signing of the devil’s book’ also reflects experiences with signing written treaties with the ‘devilish’ Native Americans and the “recent emphasis on signatures as a legal requirement.” (A Storm of Witchcraft 104/105)
38The dolls, however, were never produced as evidence. (cp. Baker 29)
39Kurt Andersen enumerates: “[t]hey forbade Church of England clergy from setting foot in their new American theocracy in Boston and Salem, hung Quakers, and passed a law to hang any Catholic priests who might dare to show up.” (Fantasyland 29)
40This description poses a parallel to Hawthorne’s “Alice Doane’s Appeal” where Mather is “representative of all the hateful features of his time” and the narrator’s listeners ironically mistake him “for the visible presence of the fiend himself.” (279)
41Richard Kopley writes: “The Salem Belle features language and events in the first half that correspond with language and events in the second half, thereby framing the center.” (The Salem Belle, “Notes” 198)
42The plot, especially regarding the motif of jealousy, will be discussed in its entirety in chapter I.3.
43Having witnessed the ‘possession’ of 16-year-old Elizabeth Knapp in his own home some twenty years before the Salem trials (to be discussed further in I.4.), he became an outspoken critic of the procedures.
44The passage is taken from 1 John 4:1, concluding with the phrase “because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (Kopley: “Notes” 205)
45The section is taken from Isaiah 28:18. (Cp. Kopley: “Notes” 205)
46Hartrath points out that a similar passage in Neal’s Rachel Dyer is used to foreshadow the approaching crisis (cp. Fiktionalisierungen 90): “A shadow fell upon the earth at noon-day. The waters grew dark as midnight. Every thing alive was quiet with fear […]” (Rachel Dyer 37).
47Indeed, as Baker points out, Cotton Mather “described the Salem phenomenon as an ‘inextricable storm’ as well as ‘inexplicable storms from the invisible world.’” (A Storm of Witchcraft 6)
48The earthquake and the storm as instances of foreshadowing are also mentioned by Kopley. (cp. The Salem Belle, “Introduction” 8)
49Being situated in the center of the novel, Kopley finds that Lyford’s afore-quoted statement forms the core of the “contrast of light and dark” between “’true religion’ and superstition.” (“Notes” 205)
50The “perfect symmetry of [The Water Witch’s] spars,” (158, emphasis mine) as Kopley points out, also reflects the overall two-part structure of the novel.
51This development will be further discussed in II.4.
52While it is widely assumed that ‘staying mute’ refers to Corey’s refusal of pleading guilty or not guilty, Marilynne K. Roach explains: “Although pleading innocent to all the indictments as they were read, he refused to answer when asked the formality of how he would be tried. Giles was expected to answer, ‘By God and my country.’ Until he spoke those precise words, his case could not proceed. This situation, despite his not-guilty plea, was technically known as ‘standing mute’ […].” (The Salem Witch Trials. A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege 281)
53Miller writes in his autobiography Timebends: “As I already knew from my reading, that was the real story of ancient Salem Village, what they called then the breaking of charity with one another.” (35)
54Witching Times, too, will be discussed in its entirety in I.3., especially regarding the jealousy motif.
55This episode will be discussed further in chapter I.4.
56While Benjamin C. Ray attributes Tituba’s change from Native American to ‘Negro’ in the cultural memory to Longfellow’s play (cp. Satan & Salem 201), her “[s]traight black hair with feathers in it”, “Beads and amulets” and “Indian powder on face and arms” (Giles Corey of the Salem Farms 75) indicate a Native American background.
57As will be shown in chapter II.1., in The House of the Seven Gables Phoebe is also likened to a rose as she contrasts with the dark surroundings.
58In Wilkins Freeman’s 1893 Giles Corey, Yeoman, Paul’s nightly journey to Boston is framed similarly when he says to Olive: “Fear not for me, sweetheart, but do thou too be careful, for sometimes danger sneaks at home, when we flee it abroad […].” (18) Moreover, Paul’s alleged initiation at a “witch dance on the hill” (33) parallels Brown’s experience.
59In the story’s opening passage alone, they are mentioned three times.
60This detail can be seen as a reference to Sarah Good who was repeatedly questioned in court about her ‘muttering’ ([Hathorne]: “What is it that you say when you go muttering away from persons’ houses?”), but replied by saying that it was only her “commandments.” (“The Examination of Sarah Good, Sarah Osburn, and Tituba” 134)
61The spelling differs from source to source; both Cory and Corey are common.
62While Hawthorne spells her name with an s, most other sources spell it with a c.
63Interestingly, in Katherine Howe’s 2009 The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane protagonist Connie, a modern witch by blood, has the inherited gift to revive plants. I argue that this change in behavior reflects the changing image of witchcraft (to be further discussed in part II).
64Interestingly, “[t]he word wilderness first got currency by means of the first English translations of the Bible, in which it appears 280 times.” (Andersen 28)
65This also ties in with the devil’s earlier assertion that he is personally acquainted with the governor.
66See the following quote from Mather’s 1693 Wonders of the Invisible World: “Memorandum. This rampant hag, Martha Carrier, was the person, of whom the confessions of the witches, and of her own children among the rest, agreed, that the Devil had promised her, she should be Queen of Hell.” (qtd. in Rebecca Beatrice Brooks: “The Witchcraft Trial of Martha Carrier” n.pag.)
67The same colors also predominate in The Scarlet Letter with the discussed prominence of dark colors and Hester’s scarlet A. The last sentence, the gravestone inscription, unites both: “ON A FIELD, SABLE, THE LETTER A, GULES.” (264)
68This allusion marks another parallel to the same motif in both The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables (I.3., II.1.)
69This passage also references the earlier scene where the twig dries up at the devil’s touch. That Brown finds himself back in the chill, wet atmosphere underlines his resistance to evil.
70In A Reader’s Guide to the Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lea Bertani Vozar Newman points out another parallel to The Scarlet Letter: “Dimmesdale, like Brown, experiences inexplicable evil impulses, wonders if he has made a contract with the devil in the forest, thinks he sees a witch who greets him as an ally, and returns to town with a new and bitter kind of knowledge.” (338)
71I am not trying to deduce a possible influence of Hawthorne’s story on DeForest’s novel. It would, however, be an object for further study.
“Religious freedom is my immediate goal,
but my long-range plan is to go into real-estate.”
(Donald Reilly, qtd. in Bercovitch: The Rites of Assent 31)
To this day, American (economic) development is inseparable from real estate politics, from the first Europeans settling the ‘open land’ to the characteristic skylines of high rises in modern American cities. The 2016 election of Donald Trump, a businessman with no political experience, is one of the most recent and most outstanding examples of this close link – his family’s well-known real estate development company owns some of the most prominent skyscrapers in cities like New York and Chicago. Another example is the financial crisis of 2008/2009 which resulted from falling home prices and a concomitant peak in the American home ownership rate in the mid-2000s (cp. “Homeownership Rate for the United States” n.pag.):
In fact, the housing bubble itself contributed to the development of the financial crisis. Very attractive house prices, low mortgage interest rates and low standards for mortgage loans resulted in growth of subprime debt. (Jennifer Rudden: “U.S. Housing Market” n.pag.)
Nevertheless, ten years later “[t]wenty-three of the 38 largest real estate companies in the world [still] hail from the U.S., including four of the top five.” (Samantha Sharf: “The World’s Largest Real Estate Companies 2018” n.pag.) The sale and lease of real estate are vital economic activities in the United States and are regulated by state and federal law. Peter Hay explains in Law of the United States that “’[r]eal estate’ is often used synonymously with ‘real [immovable] property’” and that “[p]roperty law concerns, in the main, a person’s ‘interest’ in ‘real property’ (namely, land).” (185) Fittingly, one of the economic reports, Kimberley Amadeo’s “Real Estate’s Impact on the US Economy,” is sub-headed “Why Building a Home Helps Build the Nation” – real estate is a vital investment and provides millions of jobs. Real estate, indeed, has two meanings, “property in the form of land or buildings” as well as “the business of selling houses or land for building”. (OED) A brief look back shows the interconnection of both.←57 | 58→
American economic development is inseparable from the two darkest chapters in US history,72 the removal of Native American tribes and the establishment of spaces of expropriation and dispossession in the form of reservation camps, and human ‘property’ in the form of slave labor in the South. Yet the century of Manifest Destiny saw milestones in American real estate history. The Jeffersonian Democracy of the late 18th and early 19th century is famous for its support of farmers and the significance of a limitless reserve of empty land for American democracy: “As long as hard working farmers could acquire land at reasonable prices, then America could prosper as a republic of equal and independent citizens.”73 (“Jeffersonian Ideology” n.pag.) Lincoln’s Homestead Act of 1862 marks another important step: the government legally gave acres of land to persons of full age on condition that they cultivate it.
In The Body of Property, Chad Luck quotes William Blackstone’s 18th-century Commentaries on the Laws of England, “the most influential legal text in America at the beginning of the nineteenth century,” on the virtues of private property:
“There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination, and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property; or that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.” (qtd. in Luck 4)
However, Luck further explains that the “expanding national geography – and the associated desire for more efficient property transactions – caused American land law to shed itself of older, more cumbersome English restrictions on the ←58 | 59→distribution and exchange of real estate,” and that “this period of rapid change in property practices […] reflects a gradual shift from an older idea of property as a ‘thing’ to an emergent idea of property as a ‘bundle of rights.’” (10) Indeed, while the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Dust Bowl caused the eviction of numerous farmers from their land, the ‘bundle of rights’ to property is engrained in the Constitution as one of the most important conceptual ideals of the ‘American Dream’: No American shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” (emphasis mine)
Taking a few more steps back in American history, it becomes clear that it is a history of economics from the earliest beginnings onward. Although the Puritan settlers are traditionally distinguished from the settlers in the Southern states by their predominantly religious interests, already John Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity” can be read not only as a religious but also as a legal document. While he early states his democratic vision that in the new land “no man is made more honorable than another or more wealthy […] but for the glory of his Creator and the common good of the creature, man,” (148) an important part of the envisioned brotherly love among the people is economic: “This duty of mercy is exercised in the kinds: giving, lending and forgiving.” (149) Winthrop elaborates further:
Quest. What rule must we observe in lending? Ans. Thou must observe whether thy brother hath present or probable, or possible means of repaying thee, […] If he hath present means of repaying thee, thou art to look at him not as an act of mercy, but by way of commerce, wherein thou art to walk by the rule of justice; but if his means of repaying thee be only probable and possible, then he is an object of thy mercy, thou must lend him, though there be danger of losing it […]. (151)
The terms Winthrop chooses to describe the settlers’ relation to each other and to God bears significant legal terminology as well: He speaks of the duty “to seek out a place of cohabitation and consortship under a due form of government both civil and ecclesiastical,” and he calls the group “a company professing ourselves fellow members of Christ.”74 (156) While company did not have the ←59 | 60→exact modern meaning of “a business organization that makes money by producing or selling goods or services,” (OED) looking up the etymology of the term, one finds that as of the 14th century, it described “a number of persons united to perform or carry out anything jointly.” The term “developed the commercial sense of ‘business association’ by the 1550s, the word having been used in reference to trade guilds” from the late 14th century. (etymonline.com) Indeed, Winthrop insists that everyone must “uphold a familiar commerce together in meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality.” (157, emphasis mine) Yet he warns not only of becoming ‘a story and a by-word’ should their Christian utopia fail, but they might also “be consumed out of the good land whither we are going,” (158) the vacuum domicilium75 where God has sent them “to possess it.” (158, emphasis mine)
Other sources also stress the precedence to lay ‘first title’ to the empty land as it had not been ‘properly cultivated’ by the Native Americans, i.e. used economically. Solomon Stoddard (1643–1729), a congregational reverend in Northampton, begins his explanation in An Answer to Some Cases of Conscience Respecting the Country (1722) with a quote from Genesis I:28: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” He then elaborates: “The Indians made no use of [the land], but for Hunting.” (12) And had the land “continued in their hands, it would have been of little value. It is our dwelling on it and our Improvements that have made it to be of worth.” (13)
William Cronon, therefore, writes in Changes in the Land, Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England that the English colonists were capitalists from the start, “believ[ing] that they could supersede the Indians’ natural right to the land by using the civil law of owning land” and that “anyone who began to raise crops, keep cattle, or improve the land by enclosing had the right to the land that they were farming on.” (54) Hence, fences became the new markers of personal ←60 | 61→property in the open territory.76 Sacvan Bercovitch also elaborates on this point in The Rites of Assent, stating that “the meaning of America was not God-given but man-made; [and] the men who made it were […] a group drawn mainly from the entrepreneurial and professional middle classes” who “severed their ties with the feudal forms of Old England and set up a comparatively fluid society on the American strand […].” (30/31) Fittingly, in addition to the “the worn links between Protestantism and the rise of capitalism” (30) – the Puritan work ethic and prosperity as a sign of God’s grace – Bercovitch quotes Donald Reilly’s satirical cartoon in The New Yorker which depicts one Puritan saying to another on the Mayflower: “Religious freedom is my immediate goal, but my long-range plan is to go into real-estate.” (31)
However, the settlers saw themselves faced with many (aforementioned) challenges in appropriating land. Battles with Native Americans and the lack of a charter as well as a centralized government after the overthrow of Governor Edmund Andros in 1689 contributed to political turmoil while harsh weather conditions and spreading diseases increased the need for clear boundary lines and land which could be used economically. Thus, as Wei-hsin Tien explains:
In a colony that depended on a high degree of harmony and group feeling, the courts became a maze of land disputes and personal feuds and a complicated tangle of litigations and suits. Moreover, the earnest attempts at unanimity that had characterized the early politics of John Winthrop’s era were now replaced by something like faction fighting. (“The ’Witchcraft Delusion’ in Three American Plays” 31)
This pattern was also discernible in Salem. Property disputes even seem to have been one of the major causes of the witchcraft persecutions, comprehensively discussed in Paul Boyer’s and Stephen Nissenbaum’s 1974 Salem Possessed. In their work subtitled The Social Origins of Witchcraft the authors minutely analyze the socio-economic patterns behind the trials, with a special focus on the strives between influential families and interest groups of the rural Salem Village and the more mercantile Salem Town. Their title is thus a clever pun: While most readers might suspect another study of the ‘demonic’ possession of the afflicted, ←61 | 62→the authors focus on material possession in the Salem area and its relation to the witchcraft accusations. This work shall, among others, help me contextualize the literary motif.
In the vein of Bercovitch and Cronon, Boyer and Nissenbaum claim initially: “For all the Biblical resonances of its name, the town of Salem, Massachusetts, began as a commercial venture”; founder Roger Conant was encouraged by Salem’s “fine natural harbor” to establish the town in 1626 as it enabled easy commerce with Europe and the West Indies. (37) But as the prosperous town grew, “selectmen began to make grants of land several miles in the interior,” the town’s rural food-producing region known as Salem Village or Salem Farms. (37) This district, however, was soon striving for independence from Salem Town. Although Boyer and Nissenbaum admit that “the relationship between Puritanism and capitalism is itself deeply ambiguous” (106/107) they explain this move with the mercantile lifestyle in Salem Town being “decidedly alien to the pre-capitalist patterns of village existence.”77 (88) However, as Salem Town largely ignored the village’s problems and independence efforts, the urban region soon became “a distinct community without its own town government, and a distinct parish without its own church.”78 (43) And besides the hardened fronts between town and village, the unstable communal situation was complicated by “a strikingly high level of internal bickering and disarray.” (45) Though Salem Village was allowed to build their own meetinghouse and choose their own minister in 1672, the unfortunate experiences of successive ministers James Bayley, George Burroughs, Deodat Lawson, and finally Samuel Parris are indicative of the profound difficulties in the community.←62 | 63→
James Bayley was the first minister of Salem Village and was even given forty acres of land to build his house on. Yet soon discontent arose among the villagers over Bayley’s eligibility as well as his payment, resulting in a longstanding debate about “who had the authority to call or dismiss a minister in Salem Village.” (48) After Bayley eventually left in 1680, Nathaniel Putnam (great uncle of later accuser Ann Putnam Jr.)79 and other high members of the village who had been or had become anti-Bayley were chosen to “look out for a minister.” (54) It did not take long for old troubles to resurface with the new minister, moneyed George Burroughs, however: “[b]y early 1683 the minister’s salary was not being paid, and in March Burroughs simply stopped meeting his congregation.” (55) Burroughs was even “arrested by a marshal on complaint of Captain John Putnam [brother of said Nathaniel], who had instituted a private action for debt against the minister.” (55) Though he was bailed out by a group of villagers, he left Salem soon after, returning only as an accused in 1692. Deodat Lawson took office in 1684, but already in 1686 new quarrels arose, with many villagers once more pressuring the town to establish a “full-fledged covenanted church” in Salem Village and to allow “the ordination of Lawson as its minister.” (57) This unsuccessful petition was supported by John Putnam and his nephew Thomas Putnam, Jr. (Ann Jr.’s father). Lawson left soon after, but returned to Salem in 1692, writing A Brief and True Narrative of the events afterward.
In 1689, infamous Samuel Parris thus took office. Parris came from a family “with peripheral interests in commerce and real-estate on the island colonies of Ireland and Barbados.” (154) He had inherited property on the latter island, but with little commercial success in Barbados, he relocated to New England with his slave Tituba to try his luck there. Boyer and Nissenbaum drastically claim: “commerce, not the ministry, was Parris’s first choice.”80 (155) However, unsuccessful ←63 | 64→in business once again, Parris was eventually chosen as minister of Salem Village in a time of new independence efforts.81 While this new job perspective came with the “firm offer” of “an annual salary of sixty pounds – one-third in money, the rest in corn and other provisions at specified rates,” (157) Parris directly proposed a counteroffer unheard of up to that point. I shall reproduce his economic demands here from Roach’s orthographically modified version:
1.The percentage of money to produce […] could increase if and when the Village had more coinage available.
2.Provisions for his own household would be credited at the committee’s quoted values, even if their market value fluctuated up and down.
3.The £6082 would come from inhabitants living within the Village bounds.
4.He wanted prior notice of what people intended to pay him with – unless they could spare only one choice – in case he had no use for it.
5.“Firewood to be given in yearly, freely.”
6.The Village would choose two men to oversee all this.
7.Sabbath contributions in folded papers were to be credited toward the donor’s share of Parris’s salary.
8.The salary might be increased if God sent prosperity or decreased by abatement in hard times. (Day-to-Day Chronicle xxxvi/ii)
Although his terms were at first accepted, soon resentment grew among the village. The ‘firewood dispute’ is often pinpointed as a pivotal moment in the history of the Salem witch trials and has therefore been frequently fictionalized, most exemplarily in The Crucible.83←64 | 65→
Miller introduces the reader early to the tense atmosphere and harsh living conditions in Puritan Salem: “people were forced to fight the land like heroes for every grain of corn […].” (9) And although they “preferred to take land from heathens rather than from fellow Christians,” (11) the witchcraft accusations gave many people the chance to settle ancient feuds:
Long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly expressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible’s charitable injunctions. Land-lust which had been expressed before by constant bickering over boundaries and deeds, could now be elevated to the arena of morality; one could cry witch against one’s neighbor and feel perfectly justified in the bargain. […] (16)
The ‘firewood dispute’ becomes exemplary for this ‘land-lust’. In a heated discussion with some of the most prominent villagers who have assembled in the ‘afflicted’ parsonage, Parris exclaims:
PARRIS. Where is my wood? My contract provides I be supplied with all my firewood. I am waiting since November for a stick, and even in November I had to show my frostbitten hands like some London beggar!
GILES [COREY]. You are allowed six pounds a year to buy your wood, Mr. Parris.
PARRIS. I regard that six pound as part of my salary. I am paid little enough without I spend six pound on firewood.
PROCTOR. Sixty, plus six for firewood –
PARRIS. The salary is sixty-six pound, Mr. Proctor! I am not some preaching farmer with a book under my arm; I am a graduate of Harvard College.
GILES. Aye, and well instructed in arithmetic!
PARRIS. Mr. Corey, you will look far for a man of my kind at sixty pound a year! I am not used to this poverty; I left a thrifty business in the Barbados to serve the Lord. I do not fathom it, why am I persecuted here? I cannot offer one proposition but there be a howling riot of argument. […] (47/48)
Parris was technically neither a Harvard graduate (he left Harvard without a degree for Barbados) nor was the Barbados business thrifty, but Miller underlines Parris’s business-oriented mindset: as the town was unable to provide constant firewood, £6 were added to his salary but Parris insisted “that each Village householder personally deposit wood at his door.” (Boyer and Nissenbaum 164) Eventually, an arrangement was made that the villagers “would increase his salary sufficiently to allow him to buy his own wood.” (164) The authors of Salem Possessed interpret this dispute as Parris’s strive “for a symbolic acknowledgement ←65 | 66→of the deference to which he felt entitled.” (164) This sentiment is also reflected in Miller’s play where he exclaims:
I want a mark of confidence, is all! I am your third preacher in seven years. I do not wish to be put out like the cat whenever some majority feels the whim. You people seem not to comprehend that a minister is the Lord’s man in the parish; a minister is not to be so lightly crossed and contradicted – (The Crucible 48/49)
Indeed, not only were two men chosen shortly after “to assess the estate of every Salem Village property owner so that Parris might receive in advance […] his first year’s salary,” (Boyer and Nissenbaum 159/160) but despite the earlier resolution to forbid future transfer of the parsonage, a “‘general meeting of the inhabitants’ voted to give […] Samuel Parris ‘and his heirs’ the Village parsonage together with its barn and two acres of land.” (61) This “most unusual real-estate transaction” (62) is also taken up by Miller:
PROCTOR. Mr. Parris, you are the first minister ever did demand the deed to this house –
PARRIS. Man! Don’t a minister deserve a house to live in?
PROCTOR. To live in, yes. But to ask ownership is like you shall own the meeting house itself; the last meeting I were at you spoke so long on deeds and mortgages I thought it were an auction. (The Crucible 48, emphasis mine)
John Proctor’s sarcastic comparison of the religious meeting to an auction strongly reinforces Parris’s identification as more of a jaded businessman than a pious minister, and it underlines that the two men were of different factions in town; the transaction of the parsonage was carried out by men around Nathaniel and John Putnam who “were to emerge as strong members of the ‘pro-Parris’ faction in the controversies of the next several years,”84 (Boyer and Nissenbaum 62) men predominantly of the Salem Village church and pro-independence, underlined also by their geographical distance to Salem Town (cp. 83).85 However, in 1691, a new Village committee was chosen which would emerge as the anti-Parris group, a circle including Francis Nurse, Joseph Porter and Joseph Putnam,86 some of the ←66 | 67→wealthiest men in Salem Village with close ties to Salem Town; John Proctor was one of their supporters. The hardened fronts between the two factions remained for years to come: “supporters of the trials generally belonged to the pro-Parris faction, and opponents of the trials were overwhelmingly anti-Parris.” (185)
After a Village request “to levy a tax for the payment of Parris’s salary” (68) in 1691, the salary was eventually withheld altogether, and the minister became preoccupied with a devilish conspiracy in Salem (soon ‘confirmed’ by his daughter’s affliction). Moreover, he engaged in different lawsuits “to extract from the Village what he had expected would come to him as a matter of ‘justice and duty;” “in 1692 and 1693 he began to speculate on Village lands, acquiring a succession of small tracts […] scattered throughout the Village.” (161) Yet acquiring title to land and property holdings was an increasingly pressing problem in Salem: “a son was generally given land of his own at the time of his marriage or shortly afterwards. This resulted in the continual fragmentation of what had originally been very large tracts.” (126) Therefore,
for those who did remain in Salem Village, the diminished availability of land was becoming an increasingly serious problem. Many men of Salem Village were already landless by the 1690’s, and […] those who did hold title to land usually owned less than the yeomen of the preceding generation. […] The diminishing availability of land, a matter of general concern in colonial New England, was felt here with particular intensity […]. (89–91)
This most inopportune time for the first signs of witchcraft to arise in the Parris household forms the background to Miller’s play: Reverend Samuel Parris is the first character on stage, praying for his sick daughter Betty and screaming at Tituba. His fear for Betty, however, seems to be only an expression of his concern about his community standing: he is introduced as “a widower with no interest in children” who “believed he was being persecuted wherever he went, despite his best efforts to win people and God to his side.” (The Crucible 8) This sentiment is also mirrored in Parris’s first conversation with his niece Abigail:
PARRIS. Abigail, do you understand that I have many enemies?
ABIGAIL. I have heard of it, uncle.
PARRIS. There is a faction that is sworn to drive me from my pulpit.
my ministry’s at stake, my ministry and perhaps your cousin’s life […]. Abigail, I have fought here three long years to bend these stiff-necked people to me, and now, just now when some good respect is rising for me in the parish, you compromise my very character […]. (20–22)←67 | 68→
Parris’s despair over his difficult standing, paired with the substantiated witchcraft accusations after the girls’ ritual in the woods, is intensified by Miller’s decision to make him a (historically incorrect87) single father and uncle. Although his greedy nature is later given (again, historically incorrect) poetic justice when he is robbed “penniless” by Abigail, (163) his niece’s calculating cold-heartedness makes Parris seem almost pitiable in retrospection.88 To fully understand Miller’s take on Parris’s central role in property fights and faction riffs, however, it is vital to take a look at other historical characters on stage.
Upon his first appearance on stage, Thomas Putnam is described as “a well-to-do, hard-handed landowner, near fifty” (24) – his social status defines his character. Miller gives further comment on this “man with many grievances,” one of which is a personal grudge concerning the ministry of James Bayley 20 years earlier:
Some time before, his wife’s brother-in-law, James Bayley,89 had been turned down as minister of Salem. Bayley had all the qualifications, and a two-thirds vote into the bargain, but a faction stopped his acceptance, for reasons that are not clear. Thomas Putnam was the eldest son of the richest man in the village. He had fought the Indians at Narragansett, and was deeply interested in parish affairs. He undoubtedly felt it poor payment that the village should so blatantly disregard his candidate for one of its more important offices, especially since he regarded himself as the intellectual superior of most of the people around him. (26/27)
This old grudge about the villagers’ treatment of Bayley despite his own perceived expertise in church matters is paired with the (fictional) destiny of his wife, “a twisted soul of forty-five, a death-ridden woman, haunted by dreams” (24) who has lost all of her children in babyhood (cp. 29) except never-to-be seen afflicted daughter Ruth; she later accuses Rebecca Nurse of being responsible for her misery (cp. 63).90 There is more to be learned about the role of Thomas ←68 | 69→Putnam in ministerial affairs as well as about bad blood within the Putnam family, however:
His vindictive nature was demonstrated long before the witchcraft began. Another former Salem minister, George Burroughs, had had to borrow money to pay for his wife’s funeral, and, since the parish was remiss in his salary, he was soon bankrupt. Thomas and his brother John91 had Burroughs jailed for debts the man did not owe. The incident is important only in that Burroughs succeeded in becoming minister where Bayley, Thomas Putnam’s brother-in-law, had been rejected; the motif of resentment is clear here. Thomas Putnam felt that his own name and the honor of his family had been smirched by the village, and he meant to right matters however he could. […] Another reason to believe him a deeply embittered man was his attempt to break his father’s will, which left a disproportionate amount to a stepbrother. As with every other public cause in which he tried to force his way, he failed in this. (26–28)
It was already historically contextualized how Thomas Putnam’s opinion differed from that of his uncle Nathaniel in the Bayley dispute. However, a longer recourse to riffs within the Putnam family is necessary here. For as Boyer and Nissenbaum claim: “To understand Thomas Putnam, Jr., and his family is to begin to understand Salem Village.” (151)
Thomas Putnam Jr.’s grandfather, John Putnam, was a wealthy landowner, making his family “extremely well off by the standards of the day.” (111) Their prosperity was rivaled by only one other family, the Porters, whose “economic interests and aspirations were considerably more wide-ranging,” (117) and who had close ties to Salem Town. This background does not only explain the real Thomas Putnam Jr.’s support of Samuel Parris and Village independence but it also explains the fictional character’s preoccupation with property matters. The above-quoted lines also refer to a more difficult feud with Thomas’s half-brother, Joseph. Joseph was the son of Thomas Sr. and his second wife, Mary Veren, daughter of a mercantile family from Salem Town. To the dismay of his older sons, Thomas Sr. eventually left Mary and Joseph “the best part of his estate […] and many of the most fertile acres that had been granted to old John Putnam forty years before” so that Thomas and his siblings became “convinced that they had been discriminated against.” (136/137) But while they unsuccessfully tried ←69 | 70→to break their father’s will, Joseph, to top it all, married a daughter of the Porters, Elizabeth, and became “one of the richest men in Salem Village.” (137) He thus not only managed to overcome the family rivalry but was able to “break free of the narrow agrarian constraints which held the rest of the Putnams down.” (138)
Boyer and Nissenbaum thus explain that “the family of Thomas Putnam, Jr. readily wove its personal grievances into a comprehensive vision of conspiracy against Salem Village as a whole” (151) – as displayed in The Crucible. For as one of the first persons to attend the ‘afflicted’ parsonage, Thomas Putnam explains to the reverend: “I have taken your part in all contention here, and I would continue; but I cannot if you hold back in this. There are hurtful, vengeful spirits layin’ hands on these children.” (28) He wants the minister to admit to the devil having descended on Salem so that his family can use the accusations as an excuse to get back at their enemies – it is not for nothing that Thomas, Ann Sr., Ann Jr., and their servant, Mercy Lewis, became the most prominent accusers of the Salem witch trials. But in The Crucible, John Proctor retorts with a pointed remark about Putnam’s land lust: “You cannot command Mr. Parris. We vote by name in this society, not by acreage.” (47)
It was already mentioned that Francis Nurse was part of the anti-Parris faction, and this position is directly connected to the fate of his wife. Rebecca Nurse’s accusation is exemplary for the spiral of incriminations “up the social ladder” (Boyer and Nissenbaum 33); she was of high societal standing and enjoyed an extremely pious reputation, even being “on good terms with a number of people in the pro-Parris faction, including several Putnams.” (116) Fittingly, she is introduced in the play as an elderly woman with a calming aura on Betty Parris: “Gentleness exudes from her. Betty is quietly whimpering, eyes shut. Rebecca simply stands over the child, who gradually quiets.” (42) Although, to the dislike of the Putnams, she belittles the witchcraft diagnosis, (cp. 45) Miller emphasizes that her husband “was one of those men for whom both sides of the argument had to have respect” as he was often “called upon to arbitrate disputes as though he were an unofficial judge, and Rebecca also enjoyed the high opinion most people had for him.” (42) In fact, “the general opinion of her character was so high that to explain how anyone dared cry her out for a witch […] we must look to the fields and boundaries of that time.” (42/43, emphasis mine) Miller elaborates:
By the time of the delusion, they had three hundred acres, and their children were settled in separate homesteads within the same estate. However, Francis had originally ←70 | 71→rented the land, and one theory has it that, as he gradually paid for it and raised his social status, there were those who resented his rise. Another suggestion to explain the systematic campaign against Rebecca, and inferentially against Francis, is the land war he fought with his neighbors, one of whom was a Putnam. This squabble grew to the proportions of a battle in the woods between partisans on both sides, and it is said to have lasted for two days. (42/43, emphasis mine)
Indeed, not only was Francis Nurse “a once-obscure artisan who in 1678 had established himself as a substantial figure in the Village by purchasing, on credit, a rich, 300-acre farm near the Ipswich Road,” (Boyer and Nissenbaum 147) but “Rebecca was from Topsfield, whose town authorities had for years been harassing the Putnam family by claiming that parts of their lands actually lay in Topsfield rather than in Salem Village.” (149) Thus, “Francis had been involved during the 1670’s in a protracted dispute with Nathaniel Putnam over some mutually bounded acreage.” (149) In The Crucible, Miller thus explains the significance of their real estate dispute for Rebecca Nurse’s surprising accusation:
That the guiding hand behind the outcry was Putnam’s is indicated by the fact that, as soon as it began, this Topsfield-Nurse faction absented themselves from church in protest and disbelief. It was Edward and Jonathan Putnam who signed the first complaint against Rebecca; and Thomas Putnam’s little daughter was one who fell into a fit at the hearing and pointed to Rebecca as her attacker. (44)
Though with little success, in the play as in reality, Francis Nurse later becomes one of the main opposers of the witchcraft accusations and dares to speak out that “the girls are frauds” (118) alongside John Proctor.
John Proctor, the tragic hero of the play, is the most outspoken critic of the Puritan small-mindedness and stands in stark opposition to Parris, the Putnams, and the judges. While the principal cause of his downfall is the affair with his former servant girl Abigail Williams whose jealousy of Proctor’s wife eventually brings both John and Elizabeth to jail as accused witches, his economic situation is equally crucial for the growing anger against him. In fact, the two factors are related: the “monstrous profit” in a possible marriage to John Proctor seems to be just as attractive to Abigail as the man himself. (91) He is introduced by Miller as follows:
Proctor was a farmer in his middle thirties. He need not have been a partisan of any faction in the town, but there is evidence to suggest that he had a sharp and biting way with hypocrites. He was the kind of man – powerful of body, even-tempered, and not easily ←71 | 72→led – who cannot refuse support to partisans without drawing their deepest resentment. In Proctor’s presence a fool felt his foolishness instantly […]. (35)
He shows open contempt for the hypocrisy of the Salem Village church from which he has been increasingly absent as he dislikes “the smell of this ‘authority’,” and he is tired of Parris’s sinister sermons: “Can you speak one minute without we land in Hell again?” (49) Proctor distinguishes between the institution of the Salem Village church92 and true piety (“I have no love for Mr. Parris. It is no secret. But God I surely love,” 122) and he criticizes that the church has become materialistic, exemplarily shown in the meetinghouse interior. He exclaims that “a minister may pray to God without he have golden candlesticks upon the altar” (95) and explains:
Since we built the church there were pewter candlesticks upon the altar; Francis Nurse made them, y’know, and a sweeter hand never touched the metal. But Parris came, and for twenty week he preach nothin’ but golden candlesticks until he had them. I labor the earth from dawn of day to blink of night, and I tell you true, when I look to heaven and see my money glaring at his elbows – it hurt my prayer, sir, it hurt my prayer. It think, sometimes, the man dreams cathedrals, not clapboard meetin’ houses.93 (95/96)
The pewter candlesticks are emblematic of the original Puritan ideals of sola fides (faith only) and sola scriptura (the Bible only) while the golden candlesticks symbolize how rotten this vision has become; Proctor’s remark that Parris’s greed “hurt[s] [his] prayer” stresses his integrity to the right ideals. John Proctor and Francis Nurse are reinforced as the opposition to the materialistic Salem Village church, despite their affluency. For, as Boyer and Nissenbaum explain, Proctor had inherited from his father “one-third share in an estate of more than £1,200, about 60 percent of which was in the form of ‘houses and lands’ in Ipswich”; his house stood on “one of the largest farms of the area, ‘Groton,’ a 700-acre spread […].” (200) Thus, in history and fiction, Proctor became one of the men “of considerable prominence in the political and economic life of the community.” ←72 | 73→(201) Fittingly, when Proctor turns to leave the parsonage in Miller’s play, the ensuing conversation reveals another property dispute which corroborates the two factions in Salem Village:
PUTNAM. A moment, Mr. Proctor. What lumber is that you’re draggin’, if I may ask you?
PROCTOR. My lumber. From out my forest by the riverside.
PUTNAM. Why, we are surely gone wild this year. What anarchy is this? That tract is in my bounds, it’s in my bounds, Mr. Proctor.
PROCTOR. In your bounds! (Indicating Rebecca.) I bought that tract from Goody Nurse’s husband five months ago.
PUTNAM. He had no right to sell it. It stands clear in my grandfather’s will that all the land between the river and – (51)
PROCTOR. Your grandfather had a habit of willing land that never belonged to him, if I may say it plain.
GILES [COREY]. That’s God’s truth; he nearly willed away my north pasture but he knew I’d break his fingers before he’d set his name to it. [….]
Aye, and we’ll win, too, Putnam – this fool and I.
PUTNAM. I’ll have my men on you, Corey! I’ll clap a writ on you! (51/52)
The fate of Giles Corey, “a prospering though somewhat obstreperous farmer and landowner,” (Boyer and Nissenbaum 146) and his wife Martha is the third famous case of the Salem witch trials in The Crucible, and the fictionalized socio-economic aspects of their accusations are not to be overlooked: In court, he introduces himself with the words “I have six hundred acres, and timber in addition.” (The Crucible 116) It was discussed in the previous chapter how Corey initially suspected his wife of witchcraft but eventually turned from a supporter to an opponent of the persecutions. Fittingly, Miller’s Giles Corey at first takes sides with Parris in the scene in the parsonage, and he believes that the witchcraft outbreak explains “what the trouble be among us all these years”:
GILES. […] Think on it. Wherefore is everybody suing everybody else? Think on it now, it’s a deep thing, and dark as a pit. I have been six time in court this year94 –
PROCTOR. (familiarly, with warmth, although he knows he is approaching the edge of Giles’ tolerance with this). Is it the Devil’s fault that a man cannot say you good morning without you clasp him for defamation? […]←73 | 74→
GILES. (- he cannot be crossed). John Proctor, I have only last month collected four pound damages for you publicly sayin’ I burned the roof off your house, and I – (50/51)
After a fire in Proctor’s house many years earlier, Proctor and Corey had “sued each other until it was proven that Corey had not left his bed all that night, and one of Proctor’s sons confessed to carelessness with a lamp,” (Roach 41) but eventually they fought on the same side during the witch trials.95 Fittingly, Giles bolsters Proctor up when Putnam accuses him of having illegitimately taken land from him in The Crucible (quoted above); Giles even sees the reason for the accusations against his wife as proof of the fact that “Thomas Putnam is reaching out for land.”96 (115) Indeed, Martha Corey’s social situation is important for understanding her accusation by Ann Putnam Jr. and her mother: not only was she known for an unorthodox first marriage97 but she had come “as a mature woman to Salem Village after having been long identified with Salem Town” (Boyer and Nissenbaum 146) – the Coreys were therefore natural enemies of the Putnams.98←74 | 75→
Giles Corey’s legendary decision to stay mute at his own trial is, as was discussed, penitence for having suspected his wife. He says in The Crucible: “I will not give you no name. I mentioned my wife’s name once and I’ll burn long enough for that. I stand mute.” (130) But it is also linked to economic issues: Roach suggests that (as in the referenced Jacobs case)99 “[p]erhaps he mistakenly thought his land would be confiscated from his heirs if he were tried and found guilty,” (Day-to-Day Chronicle 293) an idea also reflected in Miller’s play. Elizabeth Proctor relates to her husband how Corey
would not answer aye or naye to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they’d hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law. And so his sons will have his farm. […] (173)
Rosenthal claims that “[g]ood cause exists, however, to doubt this traditional interpretation” of Giles Corey’s behavior:
The idea of Corey attempting to save his estate by refusing to enter a plea hovers around many of the tales and legends connected with him, and yet his death appears to have been unrelated to any such attempt. Contemporaries say nothing of estate protection, with Calef claiming instead that Corey refused a trial because of predictable results. The legend of Corey dying to protect his estate is a hypothesis that probably first appeared in the nineteenth century as a hagiography of Salem victims began to emerge. Like so many Salem legends, it received its great impetus from Charles Upham in 1867. Upham, among other things, incorrectly indicates that Corey did not respond to the indictment, and storytellers ever since have followed his version. (Salem Story 163/164)
Baker even states that although the idea that “the individual who accused a witch would gain the witch’s property upon his or her conviction” is a “popular misconception,” (A Storm of Witchcraft 141) it is a strong literary motif, not only in The Crucible.
The Coreys’ socio-economic involvements in the community are also addressed in both ‘Corey plays’. In Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman’s 1893 Giles Corey, Yeoman Giles’ daughter Olive is courted by Paul Bayley,100 and one of the earliest arguments he makes for their engagement is that he “bought of Goodman ←75 | 76→Nourse101 his nine-acre lot for a homestead.” (16) While he also wants to “make amends” to Martha for having suspected her of witchcraft, this play too explains Giles Corey’s decision to stay mute as a means of securing his estate for his family: He gives his future son-in-law a deed with which he “convey[s] all [his] property to [Paul].” He states: “I would Olive had them, and not those foul traitors.” (55/56)
The prologue to Longfellow’s 1868 Giles Corey of the Salem Farms introduces the reader/spectator to a seemingly peaceful scene: “’T was but a village then: the goodman ploughed/ His ample acres under sun or cloud.” (2) These opening lines already indicate that the ‘ample acres’ of real estate are vital for Giles’ self-identification as a farmer. Fittingly, he is first shown on his farm, and his first words are praise for this material wealth:
The Lord hath prospered me. The rising sun [s]hines on my Hundred Acres and my woods [a]s if he loved them. On a morn like this I can forgive mine enemies, and thank God [f]or all his goodness unto me and mine. (16)
His affluence is further expressed through an orchard full of ripe fruit, an abundance of corn and hay, and thriving cattle. However, as “Satan still goes up and down the earth,” Corey nails a horseshoe above his door to prevent evil from his farm. (16) This symbolic act is ironically followed by his cattle immediately breaking loose “all bewitched,” (16) allegedly by his ‘farm hand’ Gloyd. As explained in the play’s foreword, this farmworker indeed played an important role for Corey’s standing in the community, and the fight is connected to the above-mentioned arson dispute with John Proctor:
In the year 1678 there had been a suit at law between Corey and a farm hand, John Gloyd, over a question of wages. John Procter102 was one of the arbitrators, and the decision appears to have been in favor of Gloyd. Later Procter’s house was burned, and a malicious report connected Corey’s name with the affair, as if he took his way of revenge. Corey was brought to trial, but abundantly exonerated. (vii)
Although Longfellow’s Giles Corey also states that he and his neighbor Proctor are “old friends,” (23) he supports the witchcraft accusations against Proctor due to his “taking part against [Corey] in the quarrel [he] had with John Gloyd about his wages. He says [Corey] murdered Goodell […].”103 (23) Giles exclaims: “I ←76 | 77→say if any man [c]an have a Devil in him, then that man [i]s Proctor, – is John Proctor, and no other!” (25) In turn, Gloyd fuels the accusations against Corey himself; he sees his boss’s supernatural strength as a sign of witchcraft. (cp. 40)104 Tien comments on the historical model for Longfellow’s characters:
As landowner, Giles, proud of his physical strength, labored so diligently that frequently he created ill will among his supposedly overworked helpers. In revenge, John Gloyd proved himself a loudmouthed malefactor by ‘crying out’ against his employer [and his employer’s wife]. (40)
Longfellow thus demonstrates the manifold interconnections of economic interests and the witchcraft accusations, from Giles’ role as an accuser as well as an accused to his decision to stay mute; he ends his life with the words “I give my worldly goods to my dear children; My body I bequeath to my tormentors. And my immortal soul to Him who made it.” (Giles Corey of the Salem Farms 60) After having discussed three plays, it will now be demonstrated that the same motif is also to be found in the genre of the novel.
Ann Rinaldi’s young-adult novel A Break with Charity tells the events of the Salem witch trials from the perspective of 14-year-old Susanna English, daughter of historical character Philip English.105 While she wishes to belong to the circle of girls who meet with Tituba in the Parris parsonage, Susanna’s advantaged economic status and affiliation with mercantile Salem Town set her apart from the other girls, especially their leader, Ann Putnam Jr. She explains that she is not allowed to enter the Parris household “[b]ecause my father is a merchant with twenty-one vessels to his name. And because I live in a fine three-story house in Salem Town and not here in the village. And because we eat from pewter and have many servants […].” (12) Susanna strongly identifies with her well-to-do family, especially her world-traveled brother William and her ‘enlightened’ father whom she describes as “better understood by the merchants of Boston” than by the small-minded Salemites (14) – the English family’s predominant interest is ←77 | 78→economic success and international trade.106 Susanna relates her parents’ history, both of whom “were gentry”:
Father had […] arrived in Salem without a shilling and started as a country peddler. My mother’s family, the Hollingsworths, had been Virginia planters visiting up north. […] Her father liked young Phillip’s enterprising spirit and lent him money to purchase a ship. Mama and Father married, and Father’s business flourished, but he was ever mindful of his humble beginnings and wanted us to be, also. As for Mama, she felt guilty because her husband’s prosperity came mostly from shipping and trading with foreign countries during the war – from the great Indian War in 1675 to King William’s war […]. (42/43)
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Book)
- Publication date
- 2021 (May)
- American history American literature witch trials memory studies comparative studies
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 336 pp., 3 fig. col.