Honing in on a period of time known for being scandalous and charged with strict religious beliefs, Salem in 1692 is dense with recognizable American history. The events of the momentous year caused hangings, trial hearings, a disrupted community, and death by being crushed. Schiff’s exasperating account of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 synthesizes the community crisis and real-life early American horror story, while ‘The Witches’ balances a polished narrative with a robust sensitivity towards the lives that were lost. Schiff weeds through centuries of accredited theories while broadening her lens less to understand the significance while expanding more to explore the reason why the ‘tiny reign of terror’ (5) in Salem occurred. Schiff retells the spectacular event in New England history, showcasing the strains on the life of a Puritan, their delicacies when it came to religion, petty jealousies that would arise, and how these influenced a group of adolescent girls to act in the manner that they had. Her account of the year takes readers deep into the political atmosphere of Massachusetts as it struggled to regain a voice away from Britain
Schiff’s analysis framed the Salem witch trials in ways that predominantly explained what caused the ‘sorcery’ (3) of witchcraft. Schiff offers analysis for the reason behind the hysteria stricken community, hinting that the trials were a complex affair that combined multiple people who, too, had multiple motives driving their actions.
Schiff’s The Witches: Salem 1692 reads as a young-adult fiction novel while still being historically accurate. The recollection of moments involving possessed animals, supernatural battles and accusations between community members, reads less of a non-fiction but more so parallel to the pages in the Twilight series. Schiff introduces a narrative focused on children, introducing Abigail William’s from ages 11 to 17, and giving visuals from inside the courtrooms while the girls lash out towards the accused. Schiff identifies how the strongest forms of evidence are within the visual actions in the Salem courtrooms.
Witchcraft in Salem may not have transcended so broadly and had been continuously studied had it not been for the relationship between children and adults in Salem. On many accounts had children been playacting, then the next had people’s family members become tortured to death. Schiff frames this as the greater mystery, looking in depth about how children fantasizing together spiraled the trials into being an enchanted part of American history.
Schiff established frames largely focused on gender politics as she discusses the regimented roles upheld by young women in 17th century Salem. ‘[The Salem witch trials] includes a tacit salute to unsettling female power in the sheer number of women accused. . . Salem is a story in which women play decisive roles’ (10). The timing for being an adolescent female in 1692 was not optimal. Schiff argues the Salem girls, notable for causing blame and lashing out dramatically due to witchcraft inflictions, were under stress that would be incomprehensible for a 21st-century reader.
Schiff, however, does stress making the 1692 happenings in Salem understood to a contemporary reader. She modernizes historical findings and articles by the use of analogies, using Cotton Mather’s father’s 1684 Illustrious Providences as a comparison to ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’ (71) with an underlying theme stressing that in Salem, denying witchcraft was denying religion, and, ‘without mystery there was no faith’ (71), feeding off of the bizarre but somehow believable nature of the unknown. Precisely proving her point that witchcraft was so far-fetched and improbable it had to be true. Schiff creates her own analysis and theories on what is not being said through the writings already gathered, while setting the mood and the atmosphere, highlighting on the role the monotony, boredom, and oppressiveness of Puritanism life.
Different from how the Puritans’ lifestyle can be imagined; one that paints them as empathetic, religiously inclined and devoted to God, and gentle, Schiff offers a different perspective to their sensibility with an ardent eye for humor. To have transcripts intertwined within the novel would have made for a riveting depiction of the Salem witch trial events, though Schiff is effective in characterizing those who were accused, and those who did that accusing.
Much of Schiff’s analysis offers perspectives that paint elaborate pictures in the minds of her readers, illustrating an event that has no true nature of being accurate. Schiff does not offer definite explanations to the trials and reasons for the heightened hysteria in Salem, 1692. Though her insight allows readers to peer into a 17th-century window, one that may be dirty and smudged just enough to notice the outline of a figure, but see no detail or distinction.
Schiff’s narrative is a descriptive account of Puritanism in 17th century Salem, investigating in on how such sorcery impacted a community and carved its way as an unforgotten historical American event. Witchcraft showed no signs of evidence, no true remembrance of conversation, and thanks to the narrative provided by Schiff, the present-day reader is given visuals to understand the rivalries of village schemers and schoolchildren who twisted a community into one that fights against each other and is skeptical of all actions.