Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Esther Forbes was primarily interested in New England, where she lived and where her ancestors have lived since Massachusetts was settled. She was peculiarly equipped to write A MIRROR FOR WITCHES, since witches are common to the folklore and history of her region, and it is said that one of her ancestors died in jail after being charged with witchcraft. While the nineteenth century Hawthorne used this kind of material symbolically, and others have used it romantically or sentimentally, Forbes has written originally and brilliantly in making A MIRROR FOR WITCHES a psychologically realistic novel. Under the same title, a successful modern ballet has been based on this tale of demonism and witchcraft in early Puritan times.

Primarily a novel about psychology, it reflects Doll Bilby as a tormented, lonely, undersized woman who is hated by her barren stepmother. Hannah Bilby is jealous of the attention lavished on Doll by her husband, Jared. Doll is feared by the people of her Massachusetts village because of her stepmother’s malicious gossip and because of the eccentric behavior that her stepmother’s hatred has brought out in her. Doll is not a witch, however, and Bloody Shad is not her “demon prince.” He is simply a pirate who has escaped jail and fled to Doll’s part of the country. He passes himself off to her as a demon since he had heard of her reputation and was playing up to it. She is eager to believe him as a way of soothing her loneliness.

The whole course of action in the novel is much like that involving Doll and Bloody Shad. Doll was driven mad by the tales told about her, for after her stepfather’s death, she herself came to believe those tales. She was lonely and without comfort. Forsaken by...

(The entire section is 717 words.)