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The Devil in the Shape of a Woman

Essay by review  •  December 22, 2010  •  Essay  •  579 Words (3 Pages)  •  1,430 Views

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The Devil in the Shape of a Woman is a book dealing with witchcraft in Colonial New England. The author is Carol F. Karlsen, who is currently a professor in the history department at the University of Michigan specializing in American women, early American social and cultural studies; she received her Ph D. from Yale University in 1980. In this book the author explores the social construction of witchcraft in Colonial New England between the years 1620 through

1725. The thesis of the book is to examine the different factors that contributed to a person being named a witch. Factors such as, sex, marital status, wealth, community standings, and relationships with others in the community all played a role in determining who was named a witch.

The Devil in the Shape of a Woman is broken down into three sections the first section contains chapter 1 and deals with the world of New England witchcraft. It examines the beliefs and religious ideals of the settlers that shaped their views of witchcraft. The second section contains chapters 2-4 and deals with more closely with examining the characteristics and individual cases of the accused. The reader will find myriad cases of the women who were accused. Three major ideas are examined and each is given a chapter, the ideas are that demographics, economics, and personalities each played a major role in determining who was accused of being a witch. The final section contains chapters 5-7 and deals with interpreting the characteristics of witches within the gender system of Colonial New England. This is broken down by looking at Puritan beliefs about women in general, the relationship between witchcraft beliefs and the social structure of the time period, and focusing on examples of women that the Puritans thought were witches.

The book The Devil in the Shape of a Woman contains a wealth of information, intermingled throughout the book are nineteen tables that show vast amounts of statistical data and facts supporting the author's thesis, as well as many accounts of those that were tried and convicted of being a witch. A large potion of which were women, the book states that of those accused of witchcraft in New England 78 percent were women (47). Unlike in England where the majority of those accused were poor in New England only 20% were poor the rest came from a full spectrum of different amounts of wealth (78). Through reading the book the reader gets a sense of the vast

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