June 29, 2020

Book Review: The Witchcraft of Salem Village by Shirley Jackson

The Witchcraft of Salem Village

by Shirley Jackson

Genres: History, Nonfiction, American History, Paranormal, Middle Grade
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Length: 160 pages
Published: First published in 1956, reprinted 1987
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"Stories of magic, superstition, and witchcraft were strictly forbidden in the little town of Salem Village. But a group of young girls ignored those rules, spellbound by the tales told by a woman named Tituba. When questioned about their activities, the terrified girls set off a whirlwind of controversy as they accused townsperson after townsperson of being witches. Author Shirley Jackson examines in careful detail this horrifying true story of accusations, trials, and executions that shook a community to its foundations."


"Much of this gossip died away naturally, but people did not forget the incident."


"Note: Salem, Massachusetts, and Salem Village, Massachusetts, were two separate places in 1692. Although only a few miles apart, they differed a good deal. Salem, where the witchcraft trials were held, was a large town, busy and active. Salem Village was a small community, self-centered and frequently almost isolated in the winter, although one of the main highways of Massachusetts ran, and still runs, past the site of Ingersoll's inn. The witchcraft cases began in Salem Village, although Salem has had to accept full responsibility. Salem Village no longer exists. Even the ghosts of George Burrough's two wives would have trouble finding it today."

My Book Review:

I love Shirley Jackson and have been a big fan of her fiction. While she's widely known for her famed short story "The Lottery" which is frequently taught in U.S. high schools,  I'm a die-hard advocate for reading her novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle--both are fantastic. To date, I've only read one of her other nonfiction titles, Life Among the Savages, a likable, dry humor approach which recounts her daily frustrations and reflections of raising four young daughters.

I've long been curious about the Salem Witch Trials, growing increasingly curious after taking an absolutely phenomenal graduate literature course themed "Saints, Witches, and Madwomen." When I stumbled across Jackson's historical account and saw that it was designed for young readers, I was immediately intrigued. I've read Stacy Schiff's tome The Witches: Salem, 1692 (you can read my full book review here), and dabbled in fictional retellings like Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, but I really wanted to see how Jackson told the story to middle-grade audiences.

Part of Penguin Random House's Landmark Books Series, The Witchcraft of Salem Village by Shirley Jackson is an accessible but short and comprehensive middle-grade account of the Witch craze in Salem Village, Massachusetts in 1692. During the chaos, eighteen innocent people were sentenced to death, others died while imprisoned in jail, and many more were terrorized and falsely accused.

Jackson's account is a great read for young readers: it's clear and fascinating. The discrimination, racism, sexism, and pervasive ignorance throughout the entire situation is haunting and still timely. The fact that the girls who found themselves at the center of attention in this scandal continued to carry on and sent people to their death while they ended up living free lives wholly unpunished is terribly messed up.

Jackson also does a fine job including a really important discussion of spectral evidence--where an accusation is considered as good as solid evidence--and continued examination into these incidents is especially significant today. It's crucial to study Salem Village to avoid repeating history, particularly as  recurrence today in new forms, modern-day ongoing manifestations of injustice, discrimination, sexism, and racism.

If You Like This, then Try:

Books about the Salem Witch Trials
The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff [read my review here] (history, nonfiction)
The Crucible by Arthur Miller (drama, fiction, American history)
Six Women of Salem by Marilynne K. Roach (children's books, history)
Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem by Elaine G. Breslaw (history, nonfiction, biography)

Other Books by Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson [read my mini review here] (Gothic, horror)
Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson [read my mini review here] (memoir, humor)
The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson (short stories, fiction, horror)

Books about Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin (biography, nonfiction)

Other Titles from the Middle-Grade Landmark Books Series
Gettysburg by MacKinlay Kantor (American history, nonfiction)
Meet Abraham Lincoln by Barbara Cary (American history, biography, nonfiction)
Meet Martin Luther King, Jr. by James T. deKay (American history, biography, nonfiction)
The American Revolution by Bruce Bliven Jr. (American history, nonfiction)
The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne (history, nonfiction)
The Wright Brothers by Quentin Reynolds (American history, biography, nonfiction)

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