Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Travel Notes II: Salem, Massachusetts

Hi everyone! This is a long overdue update. I wasn't going to continue my Travel Notes series but someone asked me the other day why I hadn't, so on the off-chance that this is even slightly interesting to at least one reader, here goes:

The next literary trip I took during my stay in the US was a day at Salem, the notorious town known for an infamous witch hunt that took place back in the 1690s, and immortalized in such works as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, among others. I honestly didn’t know what to expect of Salem; I think I expected a creepy, ghostly, eerie town haunted by its macabre past. It was anything but. If anything, Salem has made the best of its history by becoming a modern-day witch-themed tourist attraction. A little disappointing for someone who had conjured up images of dismal, Puritanical severity like me, but once I got over it, I thoroughly enjoyed the lighthearted attitude towards witchcraft and all things associated with it. Rather than denying the existence of witchcraft, I think what they tried to do was debunk myths about the wiccan religion, separating it from Satanism or the worship of the devil, which is a common misconception.

Salem has a touching tribute to the heroes and victims of the witch hunt and subsequent trials of 1692 by way of a museum and a lively retelling of the story with life-like figures of Abigail, John Proctor, Tituba and all the major players of that oft-told tale. It was a cold reminder of the power of society and human vengeance, and most of all the evil that comes out of fear of the unknown – the persecution of innocent people in the guise of morality. Although I was familiar with the story already, I think we all came out of the darkened room quite shaken after having heard the dramatic rendering of the tale by our narrator, complete with sound and visual effects, I might add.

Hawthorne’s model for The House of the Seven Gables actually does have seven gables. We went on a wet and rather gloomy day to visit his birthplace as well as the aforementioned seven-gabled house, which seemed oddly befitting.

Salem, other than the obvious nods to its traumatic history as well as Harry Potter-esque influences evident in the commercial enterprises lining the streets, was all in all a small, pretty, little village. One imagines how quiet and quaint it would be minus the touristy trappings and how someone like Hester Prynne (of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter) could have been ostracized and cast out of society for transgressing against society’s norms in days long gone.