Monday, April 20, 2009

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

The judge stabbed his finger again at the girls, and when Mother turned her head to them, they fell to the ground, shrieking and clawing at themselves and moaning as though they were being drawn and quartered. Now the judges had caught a chill from the winds of hysteria, and the third judge, who had all this time been silent, stood up and said, "You see you look upon them and they fall down."
Mother stepped closer to the judges and said loudly to be heard over the din, "It is false. The Devil is a liar. I looked upon none since I came into the room but you."

Author Kathleen Kent grew up hearing the stories of her distant relative Martha Carrier, who refused to confess or repent to the crime of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. The Heretic's Daughter is the work of her research into that dark time period of American history and her own family's past.

The story is narrated by ten-year-old Sarah Carrier, who is sent to live with her aunt and cousin Margaret when her brother and grandmother catch small pox. Margaret is a bizarre child, often claiming to see and hear ghosts and spirits. Nevertheless, Sarah and Margaret are inseperable, but a family feud keeps the girls apart once Sarah is fetched back home.

Contrasting with Sarah and Margaret's close relationship is Sarah's stormy relations with her mother, Martha Carrier. Martha and Sarah are the same: strong-willed. Neighbors are suspicious of Martha because she will stand up to any man and fights vigorously for her family's interests. Basically, Martha is kind of a bitch to the outside world of Puritan New England. Her husband, a tall quiet man, has a secret past in Engand having to do with the recent civil war there and the attempted overthrow of the monarchy by Oliver Cromwell. Martha keeps this information, her family's history, written in a red book that she gives to Sarah when she is arrested for witchcraft.

One of the themes of the book is fidelity and the mother-daughter bond. Sarah is truly her mother's daughter. The general public of Salem believe it too, and Sarah is arrested as well. Leading up to her mother's absence the two commonly shared a more peaceful and loving existance. When Sarah watches her mother go to her death, knowing that her own testimony may have helped lead her there, the guilt's effect almost kills Sarah herself.

Overall, this was a quick read and an entertaining book. Nothing too complicated. The story is interesting, the themes are easy to parse out of the text and there isn't a lot of subtlety. It was definitely a detailed and interesting look at the history of one woman, Martha Carrier, told through the eyes of her daughter Sarah amidst the backdrop of Indian raids, smallpox and the Salem witch trials.


Christopher said...

I was just reading an interesting article about witch hunts today:

Christopher said...