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Salem – A Literary Profile

Themes and Motifs in the Depiction of Colonial and Contemporary Salem in American Fiction

Clara Petino

To this day, Salem, Massachusetts, is synonymous with the witch trials of 1692. Their unique pace and structure has not only made the infamous town a strong cultural metaphor, but has generated countless novels, short stories, and plays over the past 200 years. This book marks the first comprehensive analysis of literary Salem and its historical as well as contemporary significance, from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s literature of the 19th century to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to a growing corpus of contemporary fiction.

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5. Salem as a Metaphor


“I can almost tell what the political situation in a country is

when [The Crucible] is suddenly a hit there –

it is either a warning of tyranny on the way

or a reminder of tyranny just past.”

(Arthur Miller: Timebends 348)

It was shown in the previous chapters how the stories of Giles and Martha Corey, Martha Carrier, Deliverance Dane or Phillip English and Joseph Putnam continue to inspire readers living centuries later – their courage to defy superstition and defamation, even in the face of death, has made them heroes of history and fiction. From The Crucible to A Break With Charity, The Heretic’s Daughter or The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, the protagonists even experience greatest family love and pride amid the dire circumstances, and especially the young-adult novels thus stress the task to pass on their experiences after the trials – as times of injustice and defamation can always return. In Witching Times, the narrator also cautions against dismissing the Salem trials simply to a lack of education and Puritan intolerance. Recounting the execution of Giles Corey, he says:

“But stop,” says the seventeenth century, “stop, my conceited nineteenth, before you fling your stones at me. Have you no brutes of your own, who have helped now and then to roast a live Negro? Have you no dunces of your own who have gone to midnight church yards in white robes to be in at the resurrection...

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