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Social Structure Change as a Root Cause of The Salem Witch Trial Hysteria of 1692

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Scattered through the history of humanity are certain episodes of inexplicable extremism. In some cases it is strongly linked to the culture of a society, but in others it is merely the fruit of a seed planted by something or someone more important, that is, someone with power or influence. One of the cases that must be highlighted is that of the town of Salem in 1692, where dozens of inhabitants, mainly women, were executed because of the belief in witchcraft and related arts in which people of power believed. Although there are various primary sources from the era, many of them are somewhat biased or distorted in a way that is regarded as inaccurate, or misleading at the very least. Due to the lack of objective information, historians debate over the absolute reason for which the people went mad. Yet, the majority of evidence shows that the root cause for the hysteria was the change of social structure happening during the same time period.

In the beginning, Salem was one of the many towns in New England that ran Puritan churches with a form of democracy in charge of determining who where elected officials, appointed schoolmasters, and discussed other dull matters. Yet these settlements began to change as the town’s population grew. Many of the new settlers would see themselves converted into the system of belief puritans held, where they are the “elect” children of god. This growth led to a huge increase in church members. Many of which did not believe in the core values or ideals of the original settlers quickly creating a distinction between the “elect” and others. This distinction is important because it’s the first time where the spiritual purity of the religion is diluted, leading many to believe that the will of god was being disputed. This defiance of the word of god creates hate for members of the community, many of whom wait for the right moment to unleash their resent.

Apart from the population increase, Salem was facing a societal crisis of what the community’s morals would be. The enlargement of the community, created a division between those that lived in the Town of salem and those who lived in the Village of salem. Although, a distinction due to economies exists, the real dispute was not over which economy was better, but rather which lifestyle was accepted. This separation is evident when looking at any map of the accused, as many of the “witches” are well apart from those who accuse them. As the moral disagreement grew in the village of Salem, each side began to shift their homes closer to those who agreed with their respective view points. Based on this unification of views, the village citizens began to seclude themselves into tighter communities. Making it so that by the end of the trials, much of the land that was previously owned was left abandoned or unclaimed. This internal schism made it impossible for anyone to remain a neutral party, as simply living on one side or the other made it so that your morals were questioned.

Another societal factor that contributed to the mass hysteria of Salem was the prominent role women began to play in the communities. Although puritan society gave women rights that were not afforded to them everywhere else, they were still treated harshly. This meant that there was a clear distinction between the way women were treated as opposed to men. This unfair distinction can be seen in court cases or in this cases “witch” accusations where simple responses are considered great offenses. Being accused of something and not knowing who did it meant admitting blame. This meant that women were subordinate to men. The society created laws that disallowed women the possession of any property, conduction of business, or contract signing, if they were married. Making it so that, when the husbands died or were lenient with their women much of the community began to treat them condescendingly. It also made it so that the majority of the accused happened to be women. To the citizens, any sort of change within their strict structure was unacceptable, especially if it changed the established gender roles.

As a result of the structural change of society, only a single accusation served to take these women and men to trial. The Puritan society of the time had a strong belief in the existence of the devil. During the months in which the trials were held, seven men, 19 women were executed by witchcraft and more than 200 people were arrested. None of the defendants died at the stake, such as witchcraft cases in Europe, but were hanged. Salem’s ignorance and puritanism was one of the most peculiar cases in the history of the United States. Serving to remind people that not all structural change in society should be met with a negative mindset, but rather an open one.

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Social Structure Change As A Root Cause Of The Salem Witch Trial Hysteria Of 1692. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from
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