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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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3. Female Re-appropriations


“To reclaim the word Witch

is to reclaim our right, as women, to be powerful.”

(Starhawk: The Spiral Dance 22)

It was initially exhibited that women and witches are inextricably associated with each other, as are Salem and witches, and, in turn, Salem and women. But while the witch used to be the town’s biggest threat, she has not only made Salem the “Halloween capital of the world.”292 In recent years and decades, Salem has ironically become “the epicenter of the millennial witchcraft community” (Jessica Bateman: “Why Salem’s Modern-Day Witchcraft Scene is Giving Rise to ‘Magic Tourism” n.pag.); modern pagans (especially Wiccans) and self-proclaimed witches pride themselves on Salem’s new-found (religious) tolerance and diversity. Erica Feldman, “the unofficial face of the town’s contemporary magic scene,” explains that despite or just because of its history, “[t]‌here are a lot of us [witches] here [in Salem] because it’s the one place in the world that really embraces the figure of the witch.” (Ibid.) This development is also reflected in contemporary Salem literature which is shaped by female authors and protagonists; since the 1990s, only two novels293 out of more than 20 have been written by male authors. In her afore-mentioned character analysis, Brunonia Barry thus writes that she regards Salem itself as “definitely female,”

not so much because of the witch trials which were decidedly anti-female, but for the history that followed. Salem’s shipping industry made her the richest port in the...

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