The Daughters of Salem is an intense reimagining of the events that took place in Salem Massachusetts in 1692. Thomas Gilbert’s intent with his work is to consider the issue of femicide in Western societies, which he does with thoughtful composition and terrifying depictions of insidious oppression, victim blaming, and mass hysteria.
My how things have changed?
Abigail Hobbs is a confident young woman confined to the narrow ideals of late 1600’s Massachusetts. Her first brush with gender expectation comes early, when a young boy gives Abigail a little wooden donkey as a gift. It’s obvious to the rest of the township that the boy is giving her a token of his affection, but to innocent Abigail it’s a simple kindness. Her mother and the other women of the township react to the incident with violent fervor–they begin to initiate Abigail into “womanhood”. They teach her the first thing that most mothers unknowingly teach their daughters: men only want one thing, and if they get it it’s your fault for tempting them.
As the years pass and the weather turns, the homesteaders begin to revolt against their Pastor. How could God forsake their crops, their livelihoods and their families? The good people of Salem turn to superstition and paranoia. They blame the demons that live in the woods, the “foreign” Native tribe who dress their bodies in black. Abigail knows the men in black aren’t dangerous. She’s befriended a member of the tribe on weekly excursions into the woods. Her curiosity leads to love rather than fear.
As the gloom progresses, the townsfolk lay guilt firmly atop the heads of women just minding their own damn business. Red-headed Bridget Bishop just wants to run her family’s tavern in peace, but in marches a mob ready to light it up. The time has come for these men to blame someone else for their own sins and throughout history women and the marginalized have been easy targets.
The Daughters of Salem doesn’t necessarily teach us anything we didn’t already know about the witch trials, but it deftly illustrates the incidents of femicide that are left out of our lessons in primary. It’s not just superstition that brought about the accusation of two-hundred people and the murder of twenty between 1692-1693, but the fear of a woman’s power.
I have a passionate love for this type of gritty, personal art style. It reminds me of Upgrade Soul by Ezra Claytan Daniels, my favorite graphic novel by far of 2018. The strokes show the exaggerated fatigue of the human face. It serves the subject matter so well.
Because I can’t have everything I want right away, this is only the first volume of what I imagine will be a several volume series. It’s a fast read but a heavy one, so digest it slowly. Loved it, can’t wait for the next one.
Thanks to NetGalley for an early copy in exchange for an honest review.