Retelling Salem stories: gender politics and witches in American culture

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Abstract

This article argues that representations of American witches have always been moulded by the cultural politics of their time, and have always challenged consensus. In particular, they have been shaped by authorial positioning in the debate between American conservatives and liberals, especially in the area of gender politics. Examining closely the period from the Salem witch trials of 1692 to the present, the article identifies ways in which the empty signifier of the witch was filled with meanings by writers, dramatists and film-makers in order to bolster political positions from anti-clericalism to anti-feminism. It asks whether the image of the witch is inherently repressive or whether it has proved possible to use it in a truly radical way.

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