Searching for the Witch in the Blood: The Autobiographical Trend in Salem Fiction

By Amy W. S. Lee.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Although “witch-hunt” is still an expression in use in the 21st century, its metaphorical meaning has replaced its original historical meaning because witches are no longer outlaws. They are revered and are figures of empowerment. Looking back at one of the most famous witch-hunts before the modern period, the Salem witch-hunt stands out because of the careful documentation and also the thoroughness with which it was studied. In its 300+ years of history, literary renditions of the event, the situation of the village, the characters, and even possible alternatives have proliferated. Recent decades have witnessed not only historical fiction using the Salem setting as the background of human drama, but also a trend of quasi-biographical journeying taken up by contemporary writers tracing their own family histories to individual characters in the Salem witch-hunt. This paper will examine this thread of contemporary fiction which takes the form of tracing a contemporary character’s family history back to the Salem witch-hunt. Recent fictions such as Gallows Hill (1997), The Lace Reader (2006), The Shape of Mercy (2008), and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (2009) seek to link contemporary characters and situations back to the Salem village during the witch-hunt. The paper argues that this trend demonstrates not only a different reading of the historical event, but that this new reading fulfills a psychological and emotional need contemporary society exhibits. In other words, these new perceptions and interpretations of the Salem witch-hunt are in fact disguised representations of the anxiety we are feeling.

Keywords: Feminine Heritage, The Book of Herbs, Healing, Salem Witch Trials

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 8, pp.173-182. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 747.999KB).

Dr. Amy W. S. Lee

Associate Professor, Humanities Programme , Department of English Language and Literature, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Amy Lee has a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Warwick, UK. Her research interests include Chinese diaspora, female self-writing, contemporary fiction and culture, and narratives of marginal experiences. She has published on women’s diasporic writing, life writing, gender issues in contemporary fictions, and detective fiction. She has taught writing and communication courses of different kinds: professional writing and communication, creative writing, and academic writing. Currently she is an assistant professor in the Humanities Programme and the Department of English Language and Literature of Hong Kong Baptist University.


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