Searching for the witch in the blood: The autobiographical trend in Salem fiction

Amy W S LEE*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-182
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of the Humanities
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • Feminine heritage
  • Healing
  • Salem witch trials
  • The book of herbs


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