Essays on Salem Witch Trials

Essay Introduction for the Salem Witch Trials

The Salem Witch Trials is a historical event that raised suspicion and feelings of disquiet among the villagers of Salam. “The Salem witchcraft trials resulted from a climate of repression, religious intolerance, and social hierarchy combined with fanaticism and the oppression of women. The Puritan leaders used the trials to control the community and to prevent change in the strict social hierarchy.

Research Paper on the Salem Witch Trials

The trials ensured that the teachings of the church would be followed. Anyone not following the church was simply accused of being a witch and punished accordingly. Witchcraft was considered a crime, and punishment was severe.” This paper discusses the sociological theory of moral panic and mass hysteria against the gradient of the Salem Witch Trials.

The trials coined with the term ‘The Salem Witch Trials’ after its origin, were a series of witchcraft cases tried by the local government in the Massachusetts Bay colony during the 17th century in the settlement of Salem. “Religious intolerance played a major role in the rise of the Salem witchcraft trials. The authorities used the fear of the trials to control the people and to suppress differing views and beliefs. The trials were a tool to control the people and to prevent change in the Puritan lifestyle. It was imperative to the authorities that the ridged society remain unchanged. When young adolescent girls rebelled against the harsh restrictions placed upon them by society, society used the witchcraft trials to maintain control.

Practicing witchcraft was a way to release frustrations in the very ridged Puritan society. The trials restrained any views that conflicted with the Puritan religion. The slave Tituba showed the young girls of Salem tricks and spells like voodoo. This was against the Puritan religion since Puritans believe that God permit people to investigate the future. Therefore, the people of Salem put Tituba on trial along with her ideas. This set an example to the town that anyone practicing different beliefs would be put on trial. The trials were used to squish new ideas that conflicted with Puritan ideology. They ensured that the practice of the Puritan religion would remain unchanged. Thus, the judges used the trials to suppress the rebellion and to keep society consistent.”

Thesis Statement for Salem Witch Trials

The main theory behind the Salem Witch trials is the sociological theory of moral panic. The term moral panic is defined as “Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person, or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible. Sometimes the object of the panic is quite novel, and at other times it is something which has been in existence long enough but suddenly appears in the limelight” (Cohen 1972:9).

The Sociological Theory of Moral Panic and Mass Hysteria

Morals are the principles that are used to govern one’s actions. It helps to decipher what is considered right and wrong in society. Literature states that “moral panic hinges on deviance; no deviance, no moral panic. A faceless threat that may have no real enemy, folk devil, or enemy, the “amoral” panic may not be a “panic” at all but a very reasonable concern to a very real and present danger. Sociologically, what is or is not deviance depends on a judgment that something or someone is bad, wrong, evil. This is a “subjectively problematic” definition, one based on the notion that deviance, as deviance, does not exist until an audience decides that there’s something wrong.

Argumentative Essay Examples of Salem Witch Trials

This subjectively problematic approach to deviance contrasts sharply with the “objectively given,” the traditional, common-sense view that regards behavior or other phenomena as intrinsically, inherently, and immanently wrong. The objectively given approach does not necessitate an audience; it argues that a higher power makes this decision independent of human judgments. The position that abortion is murder and, therefore, an evil act is an example of the objectively given approach; the claim that pornography is an assault on womanhood itself, likewise, adopts the objectively given approach, the view that the evil is contained in the very nature of the act”.( Aguirre, 2007)

Moreover, The Salem Witchcraft trials rest along the lines of societal deviance. This statement is made because witchcraft was condemned within the ‘pure’ Puritan society, and anyone that was contrary to this belief was labeled and treated as an outcast. Norms are an important aspect to analyze when understanding the reasons behind the Mass Hysteria and Moral panic that took place in the structured society.

Literature states that there “are three ideal-typical explanations of the social origins of moral panics. These include elite-engineered, grassroots, and interest-group. An elite-engineered panic is characterized by actions by elites to fan the flames of panic and benefits that accrue to elites because of the panic. A frequent emphasis in sociological explanations of this sort of moral panic is the way that, if a moral panic happens during ‘troubled times,’ the elites’ role will be to direct the populace towards the ‘folk devils’ as a replacement for, or a distraction from, the deeper social crisis – one that might, if attended to by a large proportion of the population, put the elites’ interests at risk.

Ideas of Lessons from the Salem Witch Trials and Their Modern Relevance

Furthermore, “A grassroots panic is one in which the panic articulates and amplifies collective emotions that, in latent form, are widespread in the population. Although there may indeed be disproportionality as these emotions become public and extreme, the driving force in this sort of panic is the existing anxieties, fear, and dread that are widely held throughout the population and may not have been initially directed at the emergent threat.’ (Goode and Ben- Yahuda 2009, p. 67) This form of panic is evident in the Salem Trials as panic spread throughout the community from the mouths of two young girls all the way into the justice system.

Another sociological theory that can be applied to this case is Mass Hysteria. The purpose of the trials was to contain or control the hysteria occurring due to the ‘witches,’ but instead, the situation intensified because people now utilized the trials as a way of manipulating the actions and behaviors of others. The Puritan law system also persecuted religious church members who were assumed to be witches. There was no limit or length against who could be and was considered witches. “To control the spread of witches, a community of vigilance was created to hunt down and prosecute all suspected witches. Not all villagers agreed with the vigilance approach; Cotton Mather was troubled by this Fanaticism. He believed that the people were too zealous in their pursuit of witches and in their beliefs, and thus they were Hysterical” (Reed, 2015)


The Salem witch trials are an infamous case of mass hysteria; they are an example of the consequences of religious extremism, false allegations, and lapses in due legal processes. These trials had a lasting effect on people’s attitude towards the separation of state and church; as historian George Lincoln Burr said, “The Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered” (1914:197). The Salem witch trials left a lesson for the future, a caution for the outcome of unbridled religious fanaticism and over-enthusiasm about the supernatural.

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