The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Book Review

Date:  2021-03-09 07:04:58
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According to Carol Karsen who authored the book, there is a depiction on how a man over the years has been trying to elevate his position in the society as the superior one while placing the woman at a lower level. The book in some sense implies that back in the Puritan days men were scared of women dethroning them as the heads in the society, and they, therefore, had to come up with devious and malicious means to constantly keep women pressed down. The basis of this subordination, according to the book, is a strong focus on the female in New England as a witch.

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There was no logical reason why women, particularly older women, were deemed to be witches in New England. Women were called witches when they committed some sins. Men who committed the same sins, on the other hand, were not branded as such. Neither was there any plausible explanation as to why some behaviors peculiar to women aroused witchcraft fears among the populace while on the other hand some behaviors peculiar to men were deemed just normal. Such apparent discrepancies, according to Mary Douglas, an anthropologist can be explained by the fact that human beings seem to welcome beliefs that strengthen ideas that back up their views to give them a higher standing. Men regarded the notions that women were witches as too true to warrant discussion. In so doing men were asserting their dominance over women.

There exist a school of thought in the book that has a totally vile view of women. Women are all together a lumpe of pride, a masse of pride, even all together made of pride, and nothing else but pride, pride. Such was the predominant belief with regards to women, as one author noted. Another author of this school of thought puts it that the problem was womens impudence, independence, masculine dress and masculine ways. There was a new brood that came up that was against the misogynists view that women were evil and needed to be subordinated. According to John Colton, women were not a necessary evil, but a necessary good. This was the time people started considering women as an important creation from God, meant to be mens help meet. Women were considered an essential in marriage, an institute initiated by God. Clever even referred to men who vilified women as foolish. Cotton referred to such men as blasphemers.

This shift in attitude towards women was caused by rampant disorder the Puritans witnessed in the society. They were not fully convinced with regards to the authority instilled by the church. To them, the order would only be realized if authority was to be internalized, not just by a mere compliance with it. People had to submit to the precepts of God as found in the scriptures for an order to prevail in the society. Adherence to the Bible teachings, according to the Puritans, would place you on a higher pedestal where you wouldnt need to bother about law compliance because the mere fact that you are scripture responsive puts you above the jurisdiction of the law.

The family was seen as the best training ground for the cultivation and inculcation of Gods word into children, to ensure that an orderly and law abiding generation would be propagated. It was the embodiment of Gods relationship with all creation. Just as God was superior to man, so was the man the head of the household and the performance of his duties as the family head was taken to imply honor to God. The subjects under the leadership of the head of the family would show their respect and honor to God by being obedient to and respectful to the father. The family also had a huge influence on the direction of their childrens lives in terms of the callings they chose. Callings came in two forms; in the form of family relations in terms of choice of a spouse, and the choice to spend ones energies in order to earn a livelihood (Perkins). Parents had the mandate of ensuring that the charges under them made the rich calling, even though God is the one who makes the calling and the child has a clue as to the direction of their calling; it is up to them to heed the call. It is worth noting that the second part of calling as per Perkins did not apply to women. Women, their only employment, were to be wives.

Though women were deemed to be good, the old fears about them never really abated. This is clearly evident in the Puritans interpretation of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. The Puritans twisted the purpose of womans creation as a wife to also mean subordination as a woman. No sooner was she a woman, but presently a wife, so that woman and wife are on the same standing (Griffiths). Women were regarded to have been created for the service of men. Samuel Willard clearly acknowledges that the responsibility for the fall of a man clearly lies on the shoulders of bot Adam and Eve. He, however, argues that much of the blame goes to Eve, which in turn translates to mean that the woman, or rather women, is to be held more responsible for the fall of man. To him, the womans sin was, in part, seducing the man, and failing to help the man. Seducing the man is easy to understand as Eve convinced Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. Her failure to help the man comes in from the fact that she was made out of the mans rib and as such she ought to have helped him in strengthening his relationship with God. Willard closely associates woman and Satan as being willing instruments in the fall of man. Woman, he says acted upon deliberation and was voluntary in what she did.' He absolves Adam from any blame, saying he lacked a motive for his sin.

Over time, the book states, women have come to be respected. Mather in his book Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion praises individual women who upheld virtues. His major focus was on the women of the Bible who had a good standing with fellow human beings and whose relationship with God was untainted. Interestingly, the same author in his book, Wonder of the Invisible World, justified the Salem witchcraft trials and executions. The majority of the witches were women in these trials. This seems to be a huge contradiction. But a closer look reveals fear that men have if women realized their full potential, when they are on the same level ground with men; when there is no subordination.

Carol Karlsen, in this interesting piece, tries to engage us in levels deeper than witchcraft in New England. This book depicts the arduous journey women have gone through to have the same rights and freedoms as their male counterparts. It is a journey that has seen men use religion as a mask to justify their ill treatment of women, how men have used such flimsy excuses as witchcraft to subordinate women. Karlsens work opens up a door for more work to be done on the topic of women subordination by men and the society at large and how this to vie can be stemmed out.

In conclusion Women subordination still exists in many parts of the world today, more so in developing countries. It is masked in repressive cultures where ridiculous rules are put in place that ensure that the man's role in the society is elevated whereas the women toil and suffer under the repressive and oppressive clutches of culture. There is need for enlightening women to step out and reach to the women who are still under chains of any kind; be it ignorance, religion or culture. Without such we will not be able to experience the bloom of womens' potential and the beauty it will enrich the entire society

The devil in a woman's face (whatever the title of the book is) is basically a wakeup call to us all in this day and age to appreciate the journey and the progress gained as women strive for equality. And to value women, given the difficulties they have been through all along. We should give them a soft spot to lean on because they need a break from all forms of oppression.


Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil In The Shape Of A Woman. New York: Norton, 1987. Print.

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