A Crowded Life: A Comparison Between Modern Life And Life in 17th Century Salem, Massachusetts Were it possible toshift from today's modern world to that of Salem, Massachusetts, circa 1690, the largest adjustment would be the closeness of the community. This co-mingling would permeate all aspects of life, both familial and social. While immediate family size would exponentially multiply, the surrounding community would be much smaller and, therefore, more interdependent. Everyone would know everyone else's business both by sheer proximity and by a healthy self-interest. What could affect one individual would affect the whole community. While today our nuclear families average 1.5 children per household, the notion of a multitude of siblings within the household seems alien, especially when compounded with the idea of limited rooms and beds. Although considering Puritan women bore children on a roughly two years cycle, perhaps it is a good idea to have more eyes watching the survivors. The "leading strings" attached to toddlers are a precursor to the modern toddler leash, only better, as it might provide some means of directional control. While today families might eat meals in shifts due to the business of their schedules, the sheer volume of household members would dictate the same at a Puritanical table, if only to provide enough seats. A plethora of children is a needed work force for any house or farm chores, but the sheer body heat would be beneficial during harsh winters,
as the primarily wooden houses would provide poor insulation form the cold as the use of bricks was only beginning in nearby Boston. But the proximity of the family, without such modern 'conveniences' as television or cell phones to distract, would ideally develop much closer bonds and personal interests their modern counterparts.
Just as family would knit more tightly, the necessities of survival would interweave the community together as well. Or rather, the lives of the community would interact in such a way that few secrets could hide from gossip. Popular media today dwells upon the cruelty and angst of young teenagers, whereas undiluted Puritanical rigidity helped contribute to the witch trials. In a community where people either make their own cloth or everyone purchases it from the same provider, even the price of dyes are so well known that a certain color garment becomes a statement about the wearer's status. Should they have too many garments of that hue, or should they wear them too frequently, then conversation would surely turn to the subject of vanity. But how could it not, when someone's financial or social success is revealed simply in the way they are addressed Even the most polite individual from today would commit the fauz pas of calling someone by the first name, regardless of status. Likewise, from a modern perspective, it might prove hard to call someone 'Mistress' or 'Master' with a straight face, unless perhaps they were a master craftsman.
While the community's closeness might be quaint in a limited time frame - even have advantages as far as familial relations go - one's 'personal space' would be missed most upon the first medical emergency. Should one survive the doctor's bedside manner, should one not become stricken by some epidemic (or worse still, live in the household where an epidemic is spreading), there is always the possibility that it was an average run-of-the-mill bewitchment, which implies that not everything about the neighbors' business is known. Although there is something to be said for the catharsis of a funeral in which the body is prepared at home. True, the children might have nightmare for the rest of their lives, but it is certainly a strong case of closure. The keepsake from the funeral is an idea that unfortunately has not survived to the present, but the gathering and refreshments after the burial certainly has. Although, for the Puritan dead, it might have been the first moment of privacy they ever had.
Roach, Marilynne K. (1996). In the Days of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Boston : Houghton Mifflin.