Devil in the Shape of a Woman Witchcraft in Colonial New England Book Review

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¶ … Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England

Karlsen's book, the Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (1987) is helps to not only examine the role that witches and witch trials had in colonial society but also the general role of women as well. This examination takes place within both the Puritan society and from a gender role perspective as well. Author Karlsen allows the reader to fall back on both historical fact and cultural context in making the connections between women's roles in Puritan society and the witch trials themselves. These connections are often overlooked in favor of the hysteria and focus on the witches themselves as cultural phenomena. The author makes the argument that those females who were accused of Witchcraft were often threats to the males-dominated society, and that many of them had economic or social gains hanging in the balance. This is to say that those who were often accused of being witches were the Puritan society's most threatening females. The culture was reluctant to loosen the grip it had on the female gender and witchcraft and trails were one way of wiggling out of the question of female dominance and place in society in favor of keeping their heads in the sand so to speak. Karlsen calls these women "inheriting women," those who were to inherit large sums of money or property in a very patriarchal society (Karlsen, 45). This was seen as a threat to the Puritan status quo.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Karlsen's thesis, or focus is more of a refocusing of intent and blame from Puritan men accusing women of witchcraft not because of their boisterous attitudes or outspoken natures, but because of the economic or cultural threats they represented as "inheriting women." This thesis is refreshing, because many historical accounts and examinations of these events place much of the focus on the women themselves as targets and not as the women being threats to the status quo or economic balance created by men within the Puritan society. It is an interesting assertion as well and one that helps to support a gender-based cause for much of the fervor surrounding the witch trails themselves. It also calls into question the extent to which women's roles and the perception of these roles by the men in the Puritan society helped to catalyze and shape other historical events.

The author also makes another rather interesting connection between the roles of women in Puritan society and the witch trails as well. Given that nearly 80% of those accused as witches were women, it is interesting that Karlsen connects the new personification of purity and the Puritan's ideals surrounding women and God with the medieval assertion that women be subservient to men. The Puritan's of that time seemed to want it both ways. During this time period, Puritan men saw women as representations of all that is pure and life-giving, yet they still required power over them both socially and economically (Karlsen, 76). The women who were most adamantly accused of witchcraft, according to author Karlsen, were those who were willing to break this paradoxical mold and were looking to create or establish a new cultural identity apart from the male-dominated roles they were forced into.

Another interesting assertion Karlsen makes is the idea that the witch trials were a last resort of sorts for men looking to negotiate with women in a society run by males (Karlsen, 100). Without much trouble, the author convincingly lays out a case for such an assertion and backs it up with the fact that as negotiations and settlements within Puritan courts broke down, or drifted out of male favor, the men would use the accusations of witchcraft… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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"Devil in the Shape of a Woman Witchcraft in Colonial New England."  Essaytown.com.  February 22, 2011.  Accessed February 27, 2021.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/devil-shape-woman-witchcraft-colonial/909316.