Monday, May 31, 2010

Book 30: The Heretic's Daughter

From the first reading of The Crucible in school, I've been fascinated with the Salem witch trials. As soon as I heard the role of the trials in this book, I knew I had to read it.  In The Heretic's Daughter, Kathleen Kent tells the story of her ancestors, Martha and Thomas Carrier and their family.  The story is told through the lens of Martha and Thomas' daughter, Sarah.

Martha Carrier was accused of Witchcraft. She courageously maintains her innocence, despite encouraging her own children to do whatever it takes to save themselves.  Sarah and three of her brothers are also accused, and Sarah recounts their harrowing trials and imprisonment.  

Despite this being a work of fiction, the stories Kent heard as she grew up give the book a sense of authenticity. I felt as though I was right beside Sarah as she recounted the experiences of her life.  The story is just so compelling. How could so many people knowingly accuse others of witchcraft? Stand by while parents, children, and siblings were ripped apart? Tried, imprisoned, and in many cases put to death?  I don't know how you live with yourself for doing something like that.

And of course the role of religion in the whole experience.  Certainly, there's more tolerance in many mainstream religions today.  But stories are in the news now of people in Africa being put to death for practicing witchcraft.  And too many religions, even in this country, are still incredibly intolerant based on snippets of scripture, twisted to fit some warped view of righteousness.  When I think about that, it makes me wonder if the underpinnings of a movement like the Salem witch trials could still exist, and if they do, will we recognize them and fight against them?

As I read more about the witch trials as an adult, I am struck again and again by the courage of those who never gave in to their accusers.  Knowing that a lie could save their lives, they chose instead death and staying true to themselves.  These people who were freethinkers and believed in the power of reason as much, if not more, than the power of the pulpit. It is reading a book like this that makes me hope that if were in a similar situation, I'd be proud to be called a Heretic and have the courage of my own convictions.

I look forward to more tales from Kathleen Kent.

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