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Colonial Salem, Witch Trials as a quest for power - Essay Example

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The image of the Salem Witch Trials in American history is one of untold barbarism and cruelty, as superstition, religion, and the dominant power structure conspired to bring fear and death to a small town in Massachusetts in 1692. By the time the frenzy had calmed, 24 people…
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Colonial Salem, Witch Trials as a quest for power
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Download file to see previous pages In fact, religion, witches, and Satan may have had less to do with the outcome of the Salem trials than the male/female conflict that permeated the town and the era. Gender attitudes were prescribed by the fundamentalist religion of the time, and religious figures may have had a fear of the women expressing themselves, and a hostility towards their feminist demands. Gender roles and sexism played a key part in the Salem Witch Trials, as the events of 1692 became another chapter in the ongoing struggle that women have confronted in their quest for status, fairness, and justice.
Witchcraft has traditionally been stereotyped as the domain of the female gender, as well as being a social construct perpetuated by the dominant male power structure. Witnesses who testified against the witches seemed to "acquiesce in and reinforce theories of witchcraft, developed by theologians and lawyers, which emphasize female weakness—the greater susceptibility of women to temptation; their greater sensual depravity" (Holmes 45). These theories were simply prejudicial stereotypes that had no basis in scientific or social fact. Feminism and gender roles are central to the Salem Witch Trials as they recognize and address the "systems of power and oppression" that existed at the time (Gasser 27). In 1692 Salem, men controlled the political spectrum, only men could vote and hold public office, they were the leaders in the Puritan religion, and owned most of the personal property (Demos 63). These factors would create an environment where women would have few opportunities except to keep their place, not speak out, and acquiesce to male demands. In addition, clinical hysteria was common in the 17th and 18th century when women were denied self-expression and limited in power and status (Hill 22). The charges of witchcraft in 17th century Salem were a manifestation of the womens struggle, and defined as witchcraft only by the male power structure.
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