burns witches: The Salem Witch Trials originated in a small town in Massachusetts in 1692. Samuel Parris, the superstitious Puritan minister of Salem Village, led his followers in the pursuit and persecution of women suspected of practicing witchcraft. Motivated by the pervasive fear of eternal damnation characteristic of an early Puritan theocracy, the witch-hunts began when hysterical young village girls began to act strangely and complain of ills that appeared supernatural. Nineteen women were hanged as a result of a society's desperate clambering to stay afloat in an insecure community ridden with disease and unstable political affiliations. The people of Salem Village sought a scapegoat and found one in the form of innocent women. These targets were especially convenient due to the Puritans' patriarchal belief that women were more susceptible to the lure of Satan and thus should be subservient to men.
In mentioning the witch-hunting ways of the seventeenth-century Puritans, Carlyle successfully illustrates how humankind is prone to overreaction and herd-like behavior. Samuel Parris induced an entire community to murder out of a misguided attempt to rid their society of imagined evils. He raised his followers to such fervor that innocent lives were lost because none spoke out against the mob on their behalf. As Carlyle puts it, "The casual deliration of a few becomes, by this mysterious reverberation, the frenzy of many . . . while the most obdurate unbelieving hearts melt, like the rest, in the furnace where all are cast as victims and as fuel." In conjunction with Carlyle's belief that people tend to live through prophecy rather than in the present, the Puritans allowed themselves to be led in the hopes that their actions would create a better future rather than pausing to reflect on the immediate consequences of their actions.
"Salem Witch Trials." Wikipedia. March 29, 2009.
Hill, Frances. The Salem Witch Trials Reader. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Cappo Press, October 1, 2000.
Last modified 1 April 2009