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“I will tell, I will tell”: Confessional patterns in the Salem Witchcraft Trials, 1692

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This study focuses on the records of confessions by individuals accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1692, both those presented in direct discourse and in reported discourse. We analyze the material from two viewpoints: the pragmatic features of the discourse and narrative structure and function. The data consists of 29 individual records, with eight cases selected for closer scrutiny. The records span the period from March through September 1692. In the pragmatic analysis we study the question and answer patterns from the point of view of the examiners and the accused.

The analysis of narrative patterns is based on Labov’s work in oral narratives. It provides a multilayered approach to understanding both the structure of the confessions and the spread of the witchcraft hysteria in Salem. The categories of orientation and complicating action reveal that each confession presents a vivid representation of the devil, the accused, and the sociohistorical context.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Humboldt State University 2: University of Turku

Publication date: June 1, 2002

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