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kutelilkat's avatar

Can you help me correctly word and work out my salem witch hysteria thesis?

Asked by kutelilkat (279points) October 13th, 2010

I’m having some trouble correctly wording my thesis.

I want to prove that the main cause/or factor that allowed the hysteria or accusations to occur or get out of control during the Salem 1692 outbreak was the Puritans religious and cultural beliefs and those believes are also why women were the main targets.

This is what I’ve got so far:
Puritan societies religious and cultural beliefs are what allowed the Salem witch hysteria to get out of control and also why women were the main targets of the accusations.

Does it need some work still? Any advice? Too broad or narrow? Needs better wording?

I’ve already done most of my research and feel I can back this claim up.

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16 Answers

mrrich724's avatar

Without spending more than 60 seconds thinking about this, I think this would sound more clear . . . just a head-start:

The Puritan values and beliefs of the day lent to a mass hysteria which caused women to be the targets of witch(evil) accusations.

Sorry, I know if could be better, but I think the first 6–7 words in your sentence could be worked over to be less wordy.

Coloma's avatar

Research ‘Ergo poisoning and the Salem Witch Trials.’

There is also a theory that the ‘witches’ were under the influence of Ergo poisoning that had hallucingenic (sp?) effects from the Ergo mold that formed on the Rye the colonists relied on for their breads etc.

It is possible the ‘witches’ were tripping on an LSD like fungus and persecuted for their strange behaviors as it would make sense that the puritans might demonize what was not understood.

mrrich724's avatar


did only the women eat the rye?

kutelilkat's avatar

@mrrich724 , wow yours is much better, I see I need to change things up a bit! Thanks for getting me thinking in the right direction.

kutelilkat's avatar

@Coloma , thanks for the suggestion, I looked into the ergo theory, however I’ve already read a thick book on how religion/culture played a huge part in the hysteria which was so interesting and I’m excited to write about it.

mrrich724's avatar


No problem. Also, to answer another question, you can not be too narrow with your thesis statement. An honors english professor once taught me that you should make it as concise as possible (while getting your point across). The thesis statement should only contain what is necessary to sum up the ONE main point in your work. If you have supporting evidence in your writing, that is good, but you should be able to sum up your essay in one sentence, which is the thesis, or claim.

I don’t know if everyone else would agree, but by sticking to that (and a few other of his rules), I maintained all A’s and B’s on all my papers throughout college.

Coloma's avatar


I don’t remember, it’s been a long time since I read of that as a possible theory, only that it IS a theory.

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kutelilkat's avatar

I’m going to email my Prof. for some advice but wanted to try my best before doing so.

mrrich724's avatar

@Coloma I wasn’t trying to contest your idea, I was just curious, and am too lazy to research for myself :)

@kutelilkat from what I’ve read so far, the main claim would be that it is due to Puritan ideology that the trials were spurred, adding to that, the Puritan ideologies also lead it to focus on women b/c of how they valued them

so what I would do (just my opinion) is make it about how the trials were spurred by Puritan beliefs. You can use the fact that women were the victims as your supporting evidence for your main claim. If you can add in an explanation about how it got out of control while adding value to support your original claim, I’d say go for it, but you may not need to.

He also told me that the way you want to structure the paper is:

Intro Paragraph



The body should be composed of paragraphs that include a claim, example, and explanation.

So your thesis is “puritan beliefs were the spawn of the witch trials.”

Then one of your body paragraphs could be a about women… here is a crudely written example:

Puritan ideals can also be illustrated as the root for the trials due to the fact that only women were persocuted (claim). Of all the people tried as witches, 99.5 percent were women (this is the example, I am creating a stat too, don’t quote me on that). (Explanation goes here, linking Puritans feelings toward women and how that translates to who was persocuted.

I hope this makes sense to you!

kutelilkat's avatar

@mrrich724, that was very helpful and nice of u to explain it so well! I feel much more confident about my options and clearly see how I might structure my paper now.

the100thmonkey's avatar

It’s ergot, not ergo.

@mrrich724 – it’s likely that all members of the community took a hit from the bread bong. This does not preclude the conclusion that witchcraft was the cause – by definition, witchcraft is a female pursuit.

@kutelilkat – The thesis is a fair one, although I think you need to be much more specific in how you frame it. Moreover, you’ll never prove your hypothesis – to attempt to do so would amount to a sophomoric misunderstanding of sociology.

Points to consider (by which I mean avoid in academic writing):

1. Get… Get? Do you seriously propose to use ‘get’ in any academic paper?

2. Be careful of how you manage the use of possessives – the ”~‘s” and ”x of y”, for example.

3. Which beliefs? This is far too vague. You need to be more specific. The thesis is actually rather complex, and would greatly benefit from your tightening of it:

The Puritans inhabiting Salem, Massachusetts, held X [and Y] belief[s] which derived from their cultural and religious heritage. These beliefs [X and Y] led to the identification of witchcraft, practiced by women of the village, as the reason for the disturbing events of autumn and winter 1692.

Or something like that at least.

kutelilkat's avatar

@the100thmonkey… Thank you for making me aware of those issues. I knew my thesis seemed too vague. I think I’ll be able to fix it up pretty good now :)!

BarnacleBill's avatar

I have to agree with “Puritan ideals” being too broad. Were there other religions in the community that were at odds with Puritanism? I would suggest something along the line of,
“The misogynistic religious beliefs and cultural practices of the Puritan sect in 1692 Massachusetts allowed the targeting of women as witches to run rampant, creating an environment of mass hysteria and false accusations.”

WestRiverrat's avatar

Salem witch trials were only the most famous of the era. There were also trials in Iceland, Scotland, England, and France. You might want to compare what happened in Salem to what happened in other parts of the world at about the same time.

kutelilkat's avatar

thanks everyone :)
@WestRiverrat, that’s true, thanks for the tip.

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