Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 291
Although there are many (many, many) books written on the subject of the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s, In the Devil's Snare takes a look at the events that led up to them in an entirely new way. Instead of focusing on how we in the current time period would psychoanalyze the people involved in the hysteria, the author, Mary Beth Norton, takes a look at things from the point of view of the people living through the 1600s via letters and other historical documents.
Norton posits that the mass hysteria over "witchcraft" was a result of a combination of factors, not just religion, as was previously believed. She says that political unrest and military endeavors also played a large part in this crisis and offers evidence that the First and Second Indian Wars, fought on the northern frontier in Maine, were a huge factor in the resulting hysteria and subsequent trials and deaths.
Although this time period was also the beginning of the Scientific Revolution, the people living in and around Salem had never been more frightened, which led to illogical and emotional reactions instead of calm, scientific ones. They felt as if they were constantly being attacked by the Native American population, but also by the devil. They felt that the only possible explanation for all the violence was that the devil was punishing them for trying to take over the Indians' land.
This tremendous pressure led the leaders of the community to forego evidence and just take the word of several young women who claimed to have witnessed witchcraft. Norton's work gives an explanation for the collapse of good judgment or logic during this bizarre period in history and helps to explain something that heretofore seemed inexplicable.
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