Early US Literature

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Women and Injustice in the Salem Witch Trials


There are certain events in history that put the human race to shame. Whichever way we look at things we cannot deny that most societies were not built on social justice and civility. How do these crimes of injustice serve us today? Understanding the issues that helped spark the witch-hunt outbreak in Salem, Massachusetts, which lasted well over a year (1692-1693), can help us understand and perhaps avoid the mistakes that others have made throughout history. Much of what happened, if viewed in a religious sense, can be explained; it is easy to alienate a certain group in society if the members believe that it is part of a process of cleansing the society of evildoers. The Puritans held the witch trials because they believed that the devil did among them. Their beliefs helped trigger the witch accusations and, unfortunately, women were the victims.

The witch trials serve as one example of many misjudgments and ongoing crimes against women. Those convicted of witchcraft were mainly viewed as female misfits. These social outcasts left the male Puritan mind in fear and judgment without having prior evidence of any wrongdoing.  Reading the trials of Susanna Martin, Mary Easty, and Martha Carrier reveals just how these independent and feisty women have caused fear among the Puritan society. Described by Cotton Mather as “Queen of Hell”, Martha Carrier, was guilty of being an independent character. As for Mary Easty, her eloquent plea addressing William Phips and the judge helped put an end to the witch accusations. “I would humbly beg of you that your Honors would be pleased to examine these afflicted persons strictly and keep them apart some time” (Heimert and Delbanco 346). Her petition provides evidence that the majority of the cases were based on frantic accusations. If we consider the accusations and trials held for these women in Salem village, many of them stood on false hearsay. Modern psychology and medicine would have had a good explanation for the fits the teenage girls reportedly experienced. There may have been some individuals who believed and practiced witchcraft among the Puritans, however, Increase Mather explains “It were better that ten suspected witches should escape, than that one innocent person should be condemned” (Heimert and Delbanco 338). The witch trials ended after questions of validity and doubts surfaced.

Unfortunately, things have not changed much in terms of social injustice, specifically towards women. Crimes against women are ubiquitous in countries such as Jordan, a country infamous for “honor killing”. Simply by leading a different lifestyle, Jordanian women risk jeopardizing their family’s honor and their own lives. Being a social outcast puts some Jordanian women at risk the same way the female misfits did in 17th century America. Many times Jordanian women end up as victims of “honor killing” based on rumors questioning their virginity. In the article, “A Review of 16 cases of honour Killings in Jordan in 1995”, Mu’men Hadidi studies crimes against women in Jordan. The article explains that the majority of the crimes committed against women were by family members. Unfortunately, such crimes exist because some societies continuously link women to social corruption. The Salem Witch Trials continue to spark interest among scholars, particularly  those interested in gender studies as it provides an insight on the treatment of women during the 17th century in America and how easy it was to link them to immoral behavior.

Works Cited

Hadidi, Mu’men. “A Review of 16 Cases of Honour Killings in Jordan in 1995.” International Journal of Legal Medicine 114.6 (2001): 357. Print.

Heimert, Alan.,Delbanco, Andrew,. The Puritans in America: A Narrative Anthology. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985. Print.

Ray, Benjamin. Salem Witch Trials: Documentary Archive and Transcription Project 2002. Web. 22   July 2013.


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