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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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2. A Place of Trauma


“All I want is to leave [Salem] and never look back.”

(The Lace Reader 104)

This chapter discusses the association of contemporary Salem with personal trauma. As this motif is present only in the novels of Brunonia Barry, her works alone will be analyzed in the following. It was already shown in the previous discussion of The Fifth Petal that while the two issues are interlinked, present-day Salem is not only darkened by the shadow of history but is a place of personal trauma for protagonist Callie Cahill. The experience of losing both her caregivers, her single mother Oliva as well as Rose, after the tragic Halloween night of 1989 and her later life in several foster homes leave her unable to form close relationships. It is further insinuated that she has been suffering from self-mutilating behavior, she is often unaware of what she says or does, and while she “only has pieces of a child’s memory” (87) and suffers from memory gaps, her (waking) nightmares and visions were usually “snippets of memories from the night of the murders, details that came back unbidden and unwelcome.” (229) On the textual level, these memory snippets are visualized through italicized passages, flashbacks disrupting the otherwise chronological narration of the novel.283 These symptoms are typical for PTSD/ trauma patients: In her landmark work, Trauma: Explorations in Memory, Cathy Caruth explains that trauma is experienced not only at the time of the original incident but as “a temporal delay that...

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