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The salem witch trials and mass hysteria Essay Sample

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The salem witch trials and mass hysteria Essay Sample

In 1692, Salem Village (now Danvers, Massachusetts) was the scene of a moral panic that spread throughout the region and involved witchcraft accusations which led to trials, torture, imprisonment, and executions.

Mass hysteria is characterized by the rapid spread of conversion disorder, a condition involving the appearance of bodily complaints for which there is no organic basis. In such episodes, psychological distress is converted or channeled into physical symptoms. Symptoms typically include headache, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness, and general weakness. Motor hysteria is common in intolerable social situations such as strict school and religious settings where discipline is excessive. Symptoms include trance-like states, melodramatic acts of rebellion known as histrionics, and what physicians term “psychomotor agitation”. In short, mass hysterias are collective delusions as they involve false or exaggerated beliefs, but only rarely do collective delusions involve mass hysteria as to do so, they must report illness symptoms. Many factors contribute to the formation: the mass media; rumors; extraordinary anxiety or excitement; cultural beliefs and stereotypes; the social and political context; and reinforcing actions by authorities such as politicians, or institutions of social control such as the police or military.

I believe that maybe one or two of the girls of Salem might have suffered from hysteria because of their strict religious rules but the others were faking. I think what happened to the rest of the young girls’, claming witch and devil forces over them, was not hysteria but instead a game and trick they played for attention and due to massive boredom. Mass hysteria is a good term to label the witch hunts event because it’s rapid spread of panic in the community. But because mass hysteria is a psychological as well as psychical disease I do no believe that is what the girls of Salem had.

To start off, Salem Village had appointed a new minister by the name of Samuel Parris, who moved from Barbados with his wife, Elizabeth, daughter Betty, niece Abigail, and slave Tituba. The time at which he and his family settled into Salem was a time at which the Village was in the stages of change. People were split between the independence of Salem Town and Salem Village, were becoming less eager in taking upon leader positions in the town, and an ongoing feud was raging between the Putnams and the Porters for control over the town and the church. The farmers of Salem Village saw the Salem Town’s prosperity as a threat to them and their Puritan values.

Samuel Parris, who had a strict outlook on Puritan values and proclaimed that the new prosperity thriving within Salem Town was the work and influence of the devil. His oratory within the church further divided those within Salem Village. During the period of the witch trials most of those charged with witchcraft resided near the road that separated the town from the village, whereas the farmers distant from the economic affluence were the accusers.

Hysteria showed up first in February during a really bitter winter. Betty, Samuel Parris’ six-year-old daughter, came down with a somewhat bizarre illness. She dashed out, dove under furniture, contorted in pain, and complained of fever. The cause of her symptoms may have been the cause stress, asthma, guilt, child abuse, epilepsy, and delusional psychosis. The Puritan doctors had no answer for what Betty was suffering from. Her symptoms had paralleled an accused witchcraft artist that was written about in a popular and well-circulated book by Cotton Mather titled, “Memorable Providences”. The thought that the devil was in the midst of the town was running through their minds.

When some of Betty’s playmates including Ann Putnam, Mercy Lewis, and Mary Walcott, began demonstrate similar abnormal behavior, the talks among the villagers about witchcraft began to increase. As there seemed to be no cure to the girl’s unusual behavior, as set by the doctor, thoughts of the origin of their behavior was thought to be supernatural. What made the thought that it likely was something of the supernatural realm was the belief that witches targeted children.

Sometime after February 25, Tituba became the center of discussion of possibly being a witch. On February 29, arrest warrants were sent out for Tituba, and two others that Betty Parris and a friend accused. Those other two were Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborn. This is where I believe the “hysteria” and the witch-hunt began.

In May of 1692, Governor Phipps analyzed the situation and set up a commission for a Court of Oyer and Terminer. Here, where many modern courtrooms would have eliminated such evidence such as rumors, hearsay, and unsupported allegations, was legally accepted. Accused witches were not allowed to have anyone speak on their behalf, or have a legal counsel to support them for that matter, and had no power to challenge or appeal the charges set before them.

After nearly 300 people being accused and imprisoned, nineteen convicted witches executed, four dead in prison, and one account of an elderly man being pressed to death by heavy boulders, Salem’s desire for blood began to subside. By early autumn, villagers began to question why and how so many respectable people could have been announced guilty. At the end of the trials, a period of admission and guilt set in. Judges sympathized for those who were wrongly executed and expressed feelings of guilt and apology. Parris was no longer minister, and the governor blamed others for the devastating events that occurred.

The Salem Witchcraft Trials began not as an act of revenge against an ex-lover, as they did in The Crucible, but as series of seemingly unlinked, complex events, which a paranoid and scared group of people incorrectly linked. A “hysteria” overcame the people of Salem, whose trials went awry. I do not think the whole village was affected with mass hysteira but really the people just got crazy and started pointing the finger of witchcraft to all their enemies. The publics concern became mass hysteria. Afraid of being accused of witchcraft, the power -hangedry, the girls accused innocent people to save their own lives.

Residents of Salem practiced a religion known as Puritanism. This religion gives the implications of a strict societal order that welcomes the repression of emotions. Residents were expected to keep their passions to themselves and were not allowed to let their infatuations get the best of them. Little did they know that their repressed passion would lead to their downfall in the manifestation of mass hysteria. The Residents of Salem Village were so afraid of change and witchcraft that they ended up going hysterical about what to do to subdue this threat to the public. Once the idea of witchcraft enters this suitable community, mass hysteria erupts.

The truth of the whole event is that is was a tragedy. At least twenty residents lost their lives. Social paranoia was such that two dogs were even accused and executed. All convictions were based on ambiguous evidence. The witch mania began in December 1691, when eight girls living in the vicinity of Salem exhibited strange behaviors including disordered speech, convulsive movements, and bizarre conduct. Explanations for the “fits” range from outright fakery to hysteria to ergot poisoning of the food supply. Using my definition I have a hard time believing that all the girls were affected with mass hysteria but instead it became a mass lie that killed innocent people. I think hysteria is a real physical and psychological sickness that can come over some under stress and could have been easily faked back in the 1600’s because of their lack of medical evidence. But I do believe that “hysteria” came over the villagers because of their fear of real witchcraft and out of vengeance to their enemies.

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