Salem Witch Trials Term Paper

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[. . .] It was eventually dropped out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as overly broad. Disorders with symptoms similar to those of traditional hysteria include conversion disorder, factitious disorder, dissociative disorder, and personality disorder (histrionic type)" (Merriam-Webster 786).

J.-M. Charcot and Sigmund Freud, renowned psychologists, did classic studies on the disorder known as hysteria. Charcot, in Lectures on the Diseases of the Nervous System, 1877, concurs that the symptoms that were evident in the period of 1692 were indeed a product of hysteria disorder.

For example, if a person knew that someone was sticking pins in a doll that was a likeness of them, to get that person sick, the person may just be anxious or fearful enough to get sick. The sickness was not caused by the sticking of pins in a doll, but was caused by the person's own fear and anxiety.

If people in Salem thought that their next door neighbor was bewitching them to have the symptoms of delirium and convulsions, perhaps they became so anxious and so fearful, that they did begin to have these symptoms.

One of the girls of Salem, Elizabeth Knapp, had symptoms parallel to one of J.-M. Charcot's cases in the nineteenth century. Charcot writes about the symptoms of the girl in his case.

Her fits are characterized in the first stage by epiliptiform and tetaniform convulsions; after this come great gesticulations of a voluntary character, in which the patient, assuming the most frightful postures, reminds one of the attitudes which history assigns to the demoniacs....At this stage of the attack, she is a prey to delirium, and raves evidently of the events which seem to have determined her first seizures. She hurls furious invectives against imaginary individuals, crying out, 'villains! Robbers! Brigands!! Fire! Fire! O, the dogs! I'm bitten!'-Reminiscences, doubtless, of the emotions experienced in her youth" (Hansen 40)

After the fits, came the hallucinations. After the fits and the hallucinations, the patient feels better than before the fits, in a state of comfort and relaxation. Elizabeth Knapp mirrored these afflictions.

The fourth psychological theory, that got some people into trouble, is that they had mental illnesses other than hysteria. Several people were jailed or executed because of their strange antics, later to be found that they had severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or senility.

The woman was named Mary Glover but is referred to by Cotton as 'the hag'. An Irish Catholic, she damned herself in court by uttering what the magistrates considered a confession, though her meaning might not have been clear since she spoke in Irish through interpreters. And, besides, she talked in so wandering and incoherent a fashion that the court appointed six physicians to examine whether she was 'craz'd in her intellectuals'. Sadly for her, they decided she was not, though it is apparent to the reader, from Cotton's account of her ravings about hearing the voices of spirits or saints and of her rage when questioned more closely, that she was schizophrenic or senile" (Hill 18).

Mary Glover was sentenced to death. If a mentally ill person, in Salem, happened to be in the wrong place in the wrong time, they were jailed or executed because of something that could not be helped.

Another theory about the Salem witch trials is that it was a sociological problem. It was a problem of men against the women, the young against the old, the rich against the poor, and the married against the single people. It was a problem of how stereotypes can ruin a society.

Now, it is to be understood that the period of 1692, in Salem, was not the only time, in history people were accused of being witches. It was happening all over Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. It was even happening to the citizens of Salem, before 1692, but not nearly as widespread as between May and October of 1692.

Let's focus on the man against women theory. In the days of 1692, women were not to scold their men, they were not to be aggressive, and, most important, women were not to be overly sexual. There was strict rules regarding the conduct of women and they were not to be ignored. When women started to exercise a little leniency in their behavior, perhaps, the men found it time to put an end to it. It's one thing to control one woman, but it is entirely a different matter controlling a mass of women.

Out of the accused witches of pre-Salem Massachusetts, twenty-five of the thirty-four suspects were women" (Weisman 76). Women made up seventy-four percent of the total suspects. During the Salem witch trials of 1692, 107 of 141 people arrested were women (Weisman 135). Women made up seventy-six percent of the total people arrested.

Out of twenty-four people who were executed or died in jail, during the Salem witch trials, sixteen of them were women. Women made up sixty-six percent of the total that died from this ordeal.

During the Salem witch trials, even the women's own husbands testified against them. "In the case of Sarah Good, her husband, William, informed the court that his wife 'either was a witch or would be one very quickly'" (Weisman 136).

Martha Corey's husband testified against her as well. He was later accused of witchcraft but refused to stand trial so they pressed him to death. The question remains that if this is not a result of men trying to teach the women in their town a lesson, then why were women targeted?

Richard Weisman, in his book, Witchcraft, Magic, and Religion in 17th-Century Massachusetts, points out that an overwhelming majority of the women accused, in the pre-Salem trials era, were poor, elderly, and/or widowed.

Even some of the men that were accused did not have high economic stations in life. Perhaps, at one time, some of them did, but lost their money in an unfortunate circumstance. That is a twist of irony, because if they were involved in witchcraft, one would think that they could conjure up some money, make themselves young, and, perhaps, cast a spell over someone for marriage.

In any event, this could have been some way for the citizens to cleanse their Puritan town. The goal would have been to get rid of the weak and keep the strong. Get rid of the infirm and keep the healthy. Whatever the reason that these types of people were targeted, the reasons created a stereotype of the typical witch.

During the Salem witch trials, the tides had turned. Now, rich, affluent, married people were now headed to the gallows. Some people even tried to use the pre-Salem trial stereotype to their advantage.

The examination of Martha Corey on March 19th constituted the first major departure from popular expectations. Though Martha was over sixty at the time of her arrest, her husband, Giles, was a prosperous and respected member of the Salem Village community. Even more important, she was a member in full communion of the village church. It was this feature of her biography that Martha herself had emphasized in a conversation with two of her accusers. According to their testimony, Martha had sought to separate her case from those of Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne by claiming that 'they were idle, sloathfull persons and minded nothing that was good' (Weisman 136-137).

Sarah Good did fit the stereotype of the typical witch. She and her husband were destitute and homeless. They resorted to begging for charity, provoking anger and disgust among her neighbors.

Sarah Osbourne was old and sickly. However, she and her second husband lived comfortably on the money that her first husband left to her when he died. Martha Corey thought that the other two had the qualifications to be witches based on stereotypes, but she did not. She thought that this would save her but she was wrong.

Later it was found that maybe she wasn't so different after learning that she had given birth to an illegitimate son. That, and her husband's testimony against her, may have convinced the judges that she wasn't so different after all (Weisman 137).

This paper has covered a lot of theories but left out one more. Maybe there really was witchcraft going on in that little town called Salem. In any event, from Carlson's theory of a virus to Charcot's theory of hysteria, the theories are all there for one to examine. It's just possible that the Salem witchcraft trials were a result of all the theories combined or as a result of a theory not yet thought of.

Works Cited

Carlson, Laurie Winn. A Fever in Salem. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1999.

Hansen, Chadwick. Witchcraft At Salem. New York: The New American Library, Inc., 1969.

Hill, Frances. A Delusion Of Satan. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Lazoff, Marjorie, MD. "Encephalitis." Emedicine. 9 Sep. 2002. 17 pag. Online. Internet. 27 Oct.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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