“Six Women of Salem” is the first work to use the lives of a select number of representative women as a microcosm to illuminate the larger crisis of the Salem witch trials. By the end of the trials, beyond the twenty who were executed and the five who perished in prison, 207 individuals had been accused, 74 had been “afflicted,” 32 had officially accused their fellow neighbors, and 255 ordinary people had been inexorably drawn into that ruinous and murderous vortex, and this doesn’t include the religious, judicial, and governmental leaders. All this adds up to what the Rev. Cotton Mather called “a desolation of names.”
The individuals involved are too often reduced to stock characters and stereotypes when accuracy is sacrificed to indignation. And although the flood of names and detail in the history of an extraordinary event like the Salem witch trials can swamp the individual lives involved, individuals still deserve to be remembered and, in remembering specific lives, modern readers can benefit from such historical intimacy. By examining the lives of six specific women, Marilynne Roach shows readers what it was like to be present throughout this horrific time and how it was impossible to live through it unchanged.