The Salem Hysteria Essay, Research Paper
THE SALEM HYSTERIA
Do you believe in witches? Today this question might sound rather
ridiculous, but in the 1600’s simply mentioning the word “witch” could get you in
some serious trouble with the community. This word could make you the center
of contraversy, which could ultimately result in death. “Are you a witch? Are you
communicating with the devil? Why don’t you confess?” How would you respond
to these questions? The obvious answer would be to say no, but if you were
respond this way you would be hung. In my opinion, the Salem Village wanted to
believe that you were a witch. Life in Salem was harsh with high taxes, bad
weather, wars, and the smallpox epidemic. It was run under a theocratic system
with no separation between church and state. In other words, there was no
separation between the laws of God and the laws of the colony. Life was tough
and boring for the community of Salem and they wanted a change. This is why I
believe the Puritans were so anxious to find witches in their community.
The hysteria began in winter of 1692 when a young Puritan girl, Betty
Parris, became strangely ill. Betty was the daughter of the highly respected
minister of Salem, Samuel Parris. She dove under furniture, contorted in pain, and
complained of fever. This could have been a result of a combination of things
including: guilt, asthma, stress, child abuse, epilepsy, and delusional psychosis.
Betty and other young female Puritans began to experiment with witchcraft. The
girls were searching for signs of romance, fortune, and answers to the future.
They would search for these signs in such things as ashes, egg whites, and wax
dropped into a glass of water.
Such acts of witchcraft, I believe, are still present today. In today’s society,
it is not as big of a deal because society has lost a lot of concern for religion.
Society feels that there are more important problems to worry about. Also, it
would be a lot harder to detect it in today’s culture. Communities and families are
not near as close nit as they once were. If someone were to question you about
certain actions, it is very common for the person to lie his/her way out of the
problem. This kind of behavior is very common in today’s society.
The girls learned these practices from Reverend Parris’ slave, Tituba.
Tituba would tell them stories of magic and witchcraft from her homeland in the
Caribbean. The problem became more evident when Reverend Parris’ niece,
Abigail Williams, began experiencing the same problems that Betty had. The
villagers then set their sites towards the devil. The Puritans believed that the devil
was attacking and entering their bodies. The doctors had no medical evidence to
contradict this, so the witch-hunt began. The first to be accused and arrested were
Sarah Good, Sarah Osborn, Tituba, and Martha Cory. These four women all had
one thing in common; they were all the weak and vulnerable part of the Salem
This is true to a certain extent in today’s culture. It is very easy for the
high and middle class of society to blame their problems on the weaker parts of
society. This can be said about Wayne County. Wayne County is 99% percent
caucasion. It is very hard for an African American or Mexican to get a job in this
area. This could be due to the fact that our society is not used to seeing races
other than our own and we are afraid of conformity.
Nearly everyone believed Betty and Abigail’s story because they had big
names in society; they were young women; and people wanted to believe them.
To make their stories more convincing, the girls would go into a delusional state
saying and acting as if the accused was biting them, pinching, and even choking
them. These actions frightened a lot of people, which made them more and more
convinced that these girls could not be lying. Once the girls realized that everyone
believed them, the accusations grew rapidly. Once a Puritan was accused of being
a witch, they were basically forced to go along with it. They had the choice of
death or admitting they were a witch. What choice would you make? If you told
the truth, you would have maintained your relationship with God and kept your
name in society. But if you went along with the accusations, you could keep your
life and live to tell about. On the surface it appears to be an easy decision to make.
But the more you think about it, it would be a very hard choice to make. It all
depends on what you believe in. You’ve got to ask yourself if you have the guts
when it comes time to make the big decision. Do you take the easy way out or do
you choose to follow your beliefs?
By the end of the trials, nineteen convicted witches were executed. About
one to two hundred people were arrested and imprisoned on witchcraft charges.
Two dogs were executed as suspected accomplices of the witches. The Salem
hysteria proved to be ironic for a couple of reasons. First, the Puritans left
England to find religous freedom. They thought they had found it in the New
World. For some this was true, but it proved to be horribly wrong for the nineteen
executed. Also, the young girls accused many Puritans of serving the devil. Even
though they might not have realized it, that is the exact thing they were doing.
They were spreading lies about innocent people, which caused them to be put to
death. In conclusion, the people of Salem Village were in desperate need for
conformity. They wanted to believe that witches existed in their community. As
many know by know, the people of Salem got the conformity that they asked for.
The Salem hysteria should make us think about the many benefits that we have
today, that others do not. It should also teach us that conformity is not necessary
in every instance. The Salem hysteria will be remembered as one of the most
tragic events in American history.