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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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1. The Motif of Ancestry


“consanguinity (‘blood’) is the functional equivalent of geographical proximity (‘place’)

in the way we mentally construct ‘natural’ connectedness.”

(Eviatar Zerubavel: Time Maps 56)

Already the first chapters of the Old Testament are full of the genealogies of the Biblical forefathers, highlighting the importance of ancestral connections over several generations. In recent decades, genealogy research has become a particularly American phenomenon, historically motivated by the United States’ unique population history. Genetic ancestry tracing “is being used to decide claims about ethnic, political, familial, and religious identity.” (Elliott and Brodwin: “Identity and Genetic Ancestry Tracing” 1469) In the tradition of publications such as Genealogy: A Journal of American Ancestry and Donald L. Jacobus’s Genealogy as Pastime and Profession, there are nowadays numerous websites dedicated to the search for one’s family roots, for, as Jacobus writes, “knowing who our ancestors were is fundamental to our sense of who we are.” (5)

Being descended from one of the people involved in the Salem witch trials is thus a particularly interesting finding in one’s genealogy line and it is appropriate that Brunonia Barry has one of the characters in The Fifth Petal, Mickey Doherty, open a very successful “new side business tracing tourists’ ancestry back to the Salem Witch Trials.” (168) His business has intriguing real-life equivalents, for example, the society of the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches, whose purpose is to “search for and preserve the names of those accused of witchery in that portion...

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