Free «The Devil in the Shape of a Woman» Essay Sample


The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, a book written by Carol Karlsen analyzes and discusses the women of New England charged of being witches. Karlsen successfully puts forward the claim that the charged women were from not only deprived backgrounds, but as well as good financial position and socially susceptible in a protective society. (Karlsen, 1987)

Her major aim for writing the account was to highlight why so many women in New England were labeled as witches. She argues the meaning of the witch in its chronological surrounding by analyzing at the intellective and collective habits of colonial New England. She notes down that New Englanders throughout the colonial era were absorbed with women as witches. She clarifies that still in the present day the witches of New England fascinate people. 

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The first chapter of the book gives the reader a comprehensive account at the New England witch hunts and how they contrasted to the witch hunts carried out in England. The major connection was that the accused were primarily women. (Karlsen, 1987)

The text of the book incisively centers consideration upon the female as witch in colonial New England, thus permitting a debate of broader subjects concerning the function and place of women in Puritan social order. Karlsen's efforts, which have been widely appreciated, illustrate and define the status of these women labeled as witches and tell us that females were placed in insecure social and fiscal positions, frequently for the reason that they were going to inherit, had inherited, or misplaced an inheritance in possessions. Karlsen leaves behind the notion that women charged of witchcraft were rowdy beggars, a representation equivalent to censuring the victim and as alternative points to such inheriting women as being communally susceptible.

Karlsen's book proves that, yet, there is scope for extensive investigation and research regarding gender, witchcraft and other such issues in colonial New England. One reviewer remarks that

Karlsen's study is provoking, comprehensive, accessible, and honest. Other reviews note that the book's portrayal and investigation stand on their own as important offerings to our information of witch traditions and the vague conditions of women in early New England. Stephen Nissenbaum and Paul Boyer, whose Salem Possessed laid down the standard for societal accounts of the outburst in Salem, declare that Karlsen's book is one of the most shocking logical authority and a major involvement to the investigation of New England witchcraft.  It places the fundamental role of women as witches beneath the microscope and for the first time as the theme of complete investigation a substantial 300 years subsequent to the events became obvious. Karlsen's effort is an essential reading for the scholar, student or a common reader striving to comprehend and infer the occurrence of colonial witchcraft in New England. (Karlsen, 1987)

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Karlsen pursues the first chapter with the demographics of witchcraft. She collects information from secondary sources and charts them out to exhibit the sex of the witches, how many were blamed, put on trial, found guilty, murdered, and where in New England when the allegations happened. She categorized then events by ages and years. In doing so, she discovered that women less than forty years of age were not likely to be witches, while women less than forty were blamed. (Karlsen, 1987)

The financial situation of the indicted women was of no significance, nor did their marital status mattered. On the other hand, Karlsen writes that unless they were widowed or single, charged women from well-off families – families with assets prized fir more than £500, which is $813 by present rates, could be comparatively convinced that the accusations would be unobserved by the system or redirected by their husbands through suits for offense alongside their accusers.

Karlsen refers regularly to primary sources collected from the colonial period to sustain her results. For instance, an indication to Cotton Mather states he articulated in his texts the strength of the psychic pressure throughout the witch-hunts. She brings up Mather’s lengthiest text on womanhood, named Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion. In this specific text, Mather affirms his rationale for scripting about women was to support virtue amongst those who cannot disregard their Ornaments and to encourage a fear of God in the fairer sex. Karlsen believes that Mather was concerned with the women’s conduct and their faith in God.

Karlsen reflects on the lives of the charged women and conveys their stories to us. She represents them in a genuine manner and uses their real words on occasions to confirm a point. With the help of this technique, the reader is able to picture the suffering the women went through, which included unfairness. (Karlsen, 1987)

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In chapter number five "Handmaidens of the Lord", she evidently illustrates that the Puritans were not warmhearted towards the women who objected to the Puritan way of life. Consequently, with the intention of having power over of the evil women they charged them of being witches. Karlsen successfully conveys the claim that Puritans were not fond of outspoken women.

Karlsen's book is not only of historical importance to the Salem outbreak of 1692. In reality, that year is something of an abnormality because one third of the charged witches then were male in contrast to less than one fifth of allegations carried out in colonial New England. As an alternative, Karlsen's book brings women powerfully back to the limelight positioning them in a rich patriarchal atmosphere that incorporates it with family and class. One critic observes that within this framework, Karlsen provides with important insights. The primary is an analysis at the unsure evaluation of women within New England's society. Karlsen discovers a state of affairs marked by its moment and position in which women personified the Puritan model of women as righteous helpmeets. In an abnormal duality, females were both the new wardens of God's holy headship on earth, at the same time as obedient to a Medieval, misogynist sexual category role which mostly placed their fortune at the hands of men.

The secondary insight is that Karlsen centers the interest on the accusers and discovers that they were involved in a ferocious negotiation regarding the authority of feminine restlessness, bitterness, and annoyance. (Karlsen, 1987)

Allegations of witchcraft were frequently an exit where this negotiation simmered into aggression, as men mistreated women neighbors who threatened a recognized, but uncertain, society. The central thesis on which a large part of the book rests is that witchcraft allegations were frequently made against the females who threatened the methodical reassigning of land from father to son - a procedure at best burdened with stress and apprehension and at worst manifested by the transfer of limited, priceless assets from a family to the other by way of an superseding woman in a patriarchal heritage scheme. The obsessed females possessed a dual role in this representative civilizing drama in which they revolted against the society to which they had been destined to at birth by concurrently complying with that role by defying the "witch." (Karlsen, 1987) 


Moreover, Karlsen employs secondary sources such as books by a variety of authors and researchers mentioned in the end of the book. The mannerism in which Karlsen analyzes the witch-hunts of the seventeenth century’s persuades curiosity for the role women portrayed in colonial New England.

Although she continued to declare that if she were to write the book over once again she would make a number of changes concerning clarifications of the term “accused witches' and more methodical investigation. In general, Karlsen’s book is enlightening and compels the reader to take into account, another outlook of the Salem witch trials. It can also persuade the reader to do additional research in the issue. (Karlsen, 1987)

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