A Break With Charity

By Ann Rinaldi

Historical Fiction







Historical Elements of Puritan Culture and Society around Salem

          Before we examine the Salem Witch trials it is important to understand elements of Puritan culture and the social progression of witchcraft trials. There are many important elements of Puritan theology. Puritans have a complex conception of God. The Puritans believed that individuals should have their own access to God (church, Bible, prayer). For example, the ability to be good means you were saved and you are good because God wants you to be. Outside of religion, the Puritan culture also focused on the role of family. Family is the foundation of obedience and order.
Important characteristics of Puritan society in New England revolve around God. Puritan life is a promise to God. There is always a presence of hierarchy/order within families and the community. Marriage is beneficial to individuals and society because it keeps order in the community.

Causes, Theories and Locations

          Witch hunts began in Europe (England, France, Germany, Scotland) in 1450 and continued until the mid-1700's. It is perceived that the geographic progression continued until it reached New England in the 1600's. There are numerous theories surrounding the cause of the witch trials. The two most commonly studied are illness and religious conflict. Many historians believe that the illness is a result of ergot poisoning. The five major causes of the Salem witch trials include:

1. "mean girls"- women as a threat to society
2. living in danger of Native attacks- causes strange reactions
3. religious hysteria
4. fear of change
5. fear of the unknown


Rinaldi, Ann. A Break With Charity. Harcourt Brace Inc. 1992.295.9780152046828.