Demonology for an Age of Science

THIS TRICENTENNIAL OBSERVANCE of the Massachusetts Day of Contrition cannot fail to provoke sombre and resolute thoughts in everyone who sees a parallel between the judicial horrors of the 1690s and those of the 1980s and 90s. Although Salem has a positive resonance for those who love American literature, the town inevitably calls to mind the aura of demented legalism that made the execution of so-called witches appear to be the only available course of action in 1692. Salem’s own Nathaniel Hawthorne, for one, could not escape that theme, and it helped colour his imagination and make him a lifelong brooder about irreparable wrongs.

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