A trope is a means by which to tell a story by relying on situations and features familiar to viewers, as they fit into established patterns with which it is easy to resonate. A trope can be a narrative structure, a character type or a figurative speech. When a trope is taken to extremes it becomes a cliché.

WGN Salem is a historical drama with horror hues, but it also consists of other literary tropes ranging from romance to philosophical discussions, through a wide range of gore and feats of magic.

Character types Edit

Main Article: Tropes/Characters

Many are the characters of Salem, as many are also their facets and nuances.

Anti-Hero Edit

  • Although witches lead by Mary Sibley are plotting the rise of the Devil and the killing of innocents, they are after all the protagonists of the story, driven to extreme acts by the fanaticism of the Puritans that oppress individual liberty.
  • John Alden, a self-professed murderer, is actually an anti-hero opposing fanaticism and diabolical events.
  • Cotton Mather also counts as an anti-hero, holding the distinction of being the least hypocritical Puritan, or at least the best-intentioned one in the series.

Anti-Villain Edit

  • Mary Sibley, a witch with conflicting loyalty between furthering the cause of her fellow witches, and trying to protect the people she loves.

Dark Lady Edit

  • Mary Sibley fully represents the figure of the dark lady. Beautiful, sophisticated and deadly.
  • Tituba is a witch who hides many secrets, including plans of doom.
  • Countess Von Marburg is a wicked woman who has no scruples to kill those she considers an obstacle to her success. Be the first bride of Satan makes it even easier the association.

Dark Man Edit

  • The Devil embodied this role to the letter. Machiavellian, dark and dangerous.
  • Magistrate Hathorne is in some ways the Darkman of Gothic literature, as he is a man who wants to circumvent a much younger woman to take possession of her belongings and her body.

Good Witch Edit

  • Anne Hale's vow to "harm none" classify her as a good witch, until she decided to put a diabolical rat in her husband's throat.

Hot Witch Edit

  • Tituba acted as a seductive temptress both with Mary and John Alden.
  • Mary Sibley is the embodiment of the witch: deadly and beautiful, she is a mistress of sorceries.

Damsel in distress Edit

  • Anne Hale in episode The House of Pain was a real damsel in distress, lost in the woods and rescued by the man she loved (John Alden).

Drunkard Edit

  • Cotton Mather is a relapsed alcoholic, especially after losing his beloved. In a drunken state Cotton Mather follows the drunkard cliché as soul tormented by guilt, heartbreak, and religious crisis, as well as problems with the father figure.

Knight without fear and without reproach Edit

  • Isaac Walton has been described as such by Mercy Lewis. The young man well enough traces the role, although in earlier episodes he lacked courage.

Mad woman Edit

  • The blind desire for vengeance made Mercy Lewis adapts to tread the literary role of "mad woman", especially when she indulges in hysterical laughter or violent attacks of anger

Villain Edit

  • Increase Mather is a cruel witch hunter who represents a threat even to non-witches.
  • The Devil, although revered as a god by the witches, he is actually the villain par excellence.

Village idiot Edit

  • After being branded as a fornicator, Isaac was left to himself, becoming a sort of village idiot, naïve but good-hearted.

Family Dysfunction Edit

Family in Salem is not synonymous with loving bonds and safe places.

Domestic violence Edit

  • Increase Mather was described by his son Cotton as a violent and harsh father. Later, Increase Mather has confirmed the claims.
  • Mercy Lewis has repeatedly accused her father of sexual abuse.
  • Dollie Trask's mother was a very strict woman, prone to physical punishment.
  • Henry Hopkins was hardly an exemplary father to his daughter Emily, forcing her to live as a beggar, and beating her repeatedly, with the intention to sell her to a brothel.

Incest Edit

  • Mercy Lewis was the object of sexual attention from her father.
  • Countess Von Marburg had an incestuous relationship with her son Sebastian.

History Edit

WGNA Salem is a historical supernatural show, with a dash of historical facts and characters that serve as inspiration for the plot. Historians and experts contributed to Salem documentary for the first season.

Historical Characters Edit

  • Cotton Mather, a very influential Puritan minister who is shown taking a direct role in hunting witches by the show (whereas in real life he did not attend any of the trials although witnessing two hangings, while his writings have been alleged to be the source of the witch panic).
  • His father Increase Mather also gets portrayed as a directly involved witch hunter, while in actuality he merely attended one of the trials.
  • Tituba, a slave woman who was among those accused of witchcraft, gets portrayed as a ''real'' witch. In reality, there's speculation that she may have inadvertently helped instigate the affair by dabbling in occult rituals at the insistence of her master's daughter, who panicked along with her friends when they were caught, accusing people left and right.
  • The real John Alden did none of the things he's portrayed as doing, and he was in his sixties by then. In fact, Alden was among those accused, but fled town, returning when the witch trials had ended, at which point he was cleared by acclamation.
  • Giles Corey was married in real life and his wife was also tried for witchcraft, but overall his depiction in the show is perhaps the truest to history in the brief time he appears in the series. He is executed by pressing and cries out "More Weight!" before dying, as he famously did in real life.
  • Bridget Bishop was one of the convicted, although the charges were completely different.
  • Mary Sibley was a Puritan woman of the local congregation, who suggested the use of folk magic to counter the effects on the bewitched girls. Another Mary Walcott is also present, although, in the TV series, the two women have been merged together.

Historical Events Edit

  • Giles Corey's death, as well as his trial, are almost historically faithful.
  • Salem Witch Trials are loosely based on real historical witch trials.
  • Witch Pox is based loosely on the widespread epidemics during the colonial period, which was one of the causes of native populations' decimation.

Ideologies and ethical issues Edit

What's more beautiful than moralism, intolerance, and bigotry?

Agnosticism Edit

  • John Alden claims to believe only what he sees.
  • Cotton Mather began to question the biblical teachings.
  • Dr. Wainwright believes only in science, even in the yet to be discovered and that he refuses to catalog along with the silly superstitions of the Church.
  • Although mentioned several times, Afterlife including Heaven and Hell, and deities such Abrahamic God and the Native American concept of Great Spirit have never been shown.

Christian values Edit

  • Puritans, and Salem citizens in general, seem to have forgotten Christian values of love and charity.

Conflicting loyalty Edit

  • Mary Sibley is torn between carrying out the Great Rite or save those she loves.
  • Cotton Mather does not know whether the Puritan teachings are right or hypocritical.
  • Isaac Walton would still like to believe in his friend Mary, but now has seen what she's capable of.

Discrimination and Intolerance Edit

  • Native Americans are considered wild soulless by different characters, including Mrs. Hale and Magistrate Hathorne.
  • Tituba's skin color was the subject of unhappy comments by Giles Corey, Increase Mather and Countess Von Marburg throughout the first and second season.
  • Isaac Walton has been a victim of discrimination and bigotry by Salem citizens.
  • Women are treated with disdain or with heavy discrimination depending on the man who owns them.

Freedom Edit

  • Freedom of thought, word, and love are Mary Sibley objectives, shared by the other witches, with of course a healthy dose of bloody revenge.
  • Freedom is the dream of anyone who is put in slavery. Tituba dream of freedom from her chains since childhood.

Good vs Evil Edit

  • As in all the stories that are observed, the dichotomy between good and evil is represented not only outside, but also inside the characters themselves who struggle ceaselessly a losing battle.

Gray and Gray Morality Edit

  • The morality of different characters appears to be based on the concept that black and white are too simplistic as an approach. John Alden accused Cotton Mather of having a "puritanical vision of the world." Mary Sibley went further, explaining to young Anne Hale that "neither the world, the flesh nor the Devil himself is like a Puritan suit all in black and white. All is gray".

Religious crisis Edit

  • Cotton Mather has undergone a period of profound religious crisis, calling into question the very foundations of his existence.
  • Mary Sibley felt abandoned by God and later lost her faith in magic.
  • Tituba felt abandoned by God. Therefore, she found safety and protection from the Devil.

Religionism Edit

  • Puritans are driven by religious fanaticism.
  • Witches, on the other hand, are guilty of the same fanaticism especially Countess Von Marburg who wants to submit humanity to a reign of terror while reigning alongside her Dark Lord.

Science vs Faith Edit

  • the personalities of Dr. Wainwright and Rev. Cotton Mather often clash because of their moral values. However, Cotton has always been intrigued by the empirical science, although his father chose for him the way of theological studies as the empirical sciences are branded as heretical by the church.

Murder and violence Edit

Murder and violence are the bonding subject of the show, feeding it constantly with blood and carnage.

Abortion and miscarriage Edit

  • Mary Sibley aborted - or so she thoughts - her child, offering the stillborn to Satan.
  • Several fetuses and dead newborn are hanging from the branches of a "witch tree" as offerings to the Evil One. Infanticide seems to be quite common among witches.
  • One of the brothel prostitutes has prematurely given birth to a deformed fetus.

Animale violence Edit

  • In many episodes, witch's Familiars (in the guise of animals) were killed violently or subjected to barbarism such as being shoved into human throats.

Cannibalism Edit

Relevant in the horror genre, Salem has its own version, which is based on various Witchcraft traditions and popular beliefs spread in the past.

  • During the period of exile in the woods, Mercy Lewis feeds on The Crags' corpses parts.
  • Bring a ghost back from the afterlife requires feeding on a piece of its rotting corpse, as shown by Mary Sibley in "The Beckoning Fair One".
  • To assimilate certain powers and enhanced skills, it is useful to eat parts of the body that contains the above (eg. eat the eyes of a seer as shown by Tituba eating Petrus's eyes).

Death penalty Edit

One can not walk the streets of Salem without running into some condemned to the gallows.

  • Three hanged "witches" outside Salem.
  • Giles Corey pressed to death with stones.
  • Bridget Bishop hanged.
  • The Barker family (father, mother, and son) burned at the stake
  • Mercy Lewis 's followers Charlotte, Emily Hopkins, Susanna, and Charity hanged.

Marital rape license Edit

  • At the time it was entirely legal and the husband to rape his wife if it refuses to be bound by the so-called conjugal duties. Mary has had several sexual relations with George Sibley against her will as shown in a flashback of the first season.
  • Magistrate Hathorne alluded to this practice when he spoke with his cronies at the tavern about his intention to sexually assault Anne Hale once married her.

Mass murder Edit

  • Grand Rite is a bloody ritual that required countless victims throughout the centuries.
  • Puritans, Native Americans tribes and French troops have completed a lot of murders in wars and reprisals during the years.

Omicide Edit

  • Patricide: both Anne Hale and Cotton Mather killed their fathers.
  • Matricide: Anne Hale killed her step-mother. Relapse, Anne also killed her biological mother.
  • Mercy Lewis ordered the murder and corpse vilification of two Essex Hive elders.
  • Mary Sibley orchestrated thirteen murders, stabbing herself Increase Mather, killing him.
  • During the war, John Alden has killed several compatriots, Native Americans and enemy troops.
  • Countess Von Marburg has killed countless men, women, and child throughout the centuries.

Rape Edit

  • Rape seems to be the Devil preferred way to forge pacts with humans eager to take the dark path, thus initiating them into his Church, the Black Church.
  • Anne Hale was raped by a satyr-like demon. Possibly Mercy Lewis suffered the same treatment.
  • A jealous Reverend Cotton Mather raped "his" Gloriana among the church pews.
  • "Non-consensual" sexual intercourse seems to be the norm in Salem. In an attempt to use sex to take advantage of Sebastian, Mary found herself having to use such sexual subterfuge before her beloved John Alden.

Sacrifice Edit

  • Sacrifice is one of the most commonly used methods in the practice of witchcraft. In the series, innumerable animals and humans are sacrificed. Of great importance is the sacrifice of John Sibley as a vessel for the Dark Lord, or of the thirteen Salem citizens who were sacrificed in the Great Rite.

Shootings Edit

  • A good dose of shootings is present on the show. Usually when John Alden is around.

Suicide and suicide attempts Edit

  • During the first season, Cotton Mather tried to drown himself without success.
  • Mab took her life by swallowing a poison pill.
  • In the second season Anne Hale cuts her wrists, but her magic doesn't allow her to die.
  • Towards the end of the second season Mary Sibley attempts to drown herself.

Torture Edit

  • Increase Mather is an expert in torture devices. Tituba and haunted girls of Salem can testify it.

Witch Hunt Edit

  • The focal point of the whole show, with references to the great witch hunts of the Middle Ages.

Narrative devices Edit

Narrative devices shared by many TV adaptations, generally borrowed from literature.

Character-based Edit

  • Many of the episodes are shown from the perspective of one of the characters, so much so that even some episodes titles are based on these views. Little story arcs are then built around recurring or minor characters, such as family abuse suffered by Emily Hopkins.

Dead Lesbian Syndrome Edit

  • Belonging to the more generic Bury Your Gays trope, Tituba's mutilations and alleged death at the end of the second season can be interpreted as such, as the only lesbian in the show brutally killed, though her death was one of the many in that episode. Anyway, "regardless of the overall death toll of a show, the death of a gay character has a different emotional weight, as there are unlikely to be many other gay characters in the piece of media". [1]

Flashbacks Edit

  • In "The Red Rose and the Briar" Mary Sibley told the story of the Ash Maiden to Mercy Lewis, while on the screen appeared flashbacks of how Mary became the wife of George Sibley.
  • In "The Beckoning Fair One" Increase Mather told the story of Countess Von Marburg to Mary Sibley, while on the screen appeared scenarios on the past lives of the ancient witch.

Literary quotes Edit

Musical accompaniment Edit

  • Unlike many other TV shows, WGN Salem does not rely much on musical accompaniments. The soundtrack is mostly composed of intense compositions that accompany dramatic scenes, mostly violins and piano. Interesting and significant are Salem Opening Theme, Mary's lullaby.

Other Darrin Edit

  • When a new actor is brought on to play the same character as a previous actor who has left the series, with no explanation for the switch given to the audience. Named for the famous Darrin swap case: Dick York to Dick Sargent, on Bewitched.
    • Reverend Lewis was portrayed by J.D. Evermore only in The Vow. Then, the role was given to Thomas Francis Murphy for the rest of the series.
    • Mercy Lewis' acolytes Charlotte, Elizabeth, Kitty, Charity, and Hanna have been interpreted by several actresses. Only Dollie Trask and Emily Hopkins have always been always interpreted by the same actresses throughout the series.
    • The Shaman is portrayed by J. LaRose in the flashback from the first season, and by Raoul Trujillo in the second season.
    • Petrus' corpse was portrayed by stunt double Matthew R. Staley in the third season, while he was regularly portrayed by actor Christopher Berry throughout the Salem series.

Dual Role Edit

  • Dual role, also known as a "double role," refers to one actor playing two or more roles, which may be deliberately scripted in a play or film, or merely be a by-product of a low budget.
    • Morgana Shaw portrayed brothel madam Mab, who was also a witch, in the first season of Salem. Shaw has been cast again in the third season as Essex Elder. The two characters don't seem to share anything other than witchcraft and actress who portrayed them.

Voiceover Narrator Edit

  • Each episode is introduced by the voice-over of one of the characters, generally the main ones like Mary Sibley, John Alden or Cotton Mather who simply say "previously on Salem."
  • Flashbacks are narrated by voice overs.

Occult Edit

Occult is the thread that connects the various stories to the plot of the show.

Ceremonial Magic Edit

  • Mathers father and son are great experts of this art. Carried out with witch gnosis, Mary Sibley and Countess Von Marburg are able to perform sophisticated and dark ceremonies.

Deal with the Devil Edit

  • A Pact with the Devil is what it takes to join the legions of witches that serve the Prince of Darkness.

Demonology Edit

  • Demons of various forms and aspects are lurking in Salem woods.

Exorcism Edit

  • If aforesaid demons decide to invade the mind and body of the villagers, an exorcism is what you need to ban them. Cotton Mather ensures that exorcisms are not to be taken lightly. Instead, Reverend Lewis seems to be willing to do anything to get his beloved daughter.

Paganism Edit

  • Essex Hive has its roots in pre-Christian paganism. Many of the practices and names of the hive are inspired by the ancient and modern paganism.
  • Native Americans Shamanism is considered a pagan form of worship, especially from a Christian perspective.

Satanism Edit

  • The Salem witches are undoubtedly satanic, in one way or another. Certainly, their preference for blood orgies and freedom from bigoted mindset is seen as diabolical by the God-fearing Puritans.

Witchcraft Edit

  • Witchcraft beliefs from around the world are the inspiration for practices implemented by the show's witches, according to Adam Simon. Contemporary pagan witches and Wiccans may find the witchcraft of Salem decidedly aloof from their positive view of magic, while a more 'traditional' gruesome folktale witchcraft is represented.

Relationships Edit

Relationships are a strong point of all respectable narratives, although in Salem they tend to be pretty twisted. Following, a list of major relationship-related tropes.

Affairs Edit

Arranged marriage Edit

  • Increase Mather and Maria Cotton were married in arranged marriage to solidify the prestige of both families, as explained to Cotton by his father.
  • John Hale and his wife were planning to marry their daughter Anne to Rev. Cotton Mather. Eventually, the two got married without being aware of such intention.

Bromance Edit

  • This newly coined word to symbolize a strong male friendship without sexual connotations can be used to describe the friendship between John Alden and Cotton Mather, John Alden and Isaac Walton's friendship, Cotton Mather and Samuel Wainwright's.

Fairytale love story Edit

  • Mary Sibley and John Alden's relationship on several occasions has been described as the classic fairytale love story.
  • Anne Hale and Cotton Mather's relationship can also be seen as a prototype of a fairy-tale love story, complete with a hostile wicked witch (Countess Von Marburg).

Parent-child relationships Edit

  • The non-existent parent-child relationship of Mary Sibley with her deceased parents.
  • The profound relationship between Mary Sibley with her long lost son John, as well as John Alden's growing affection for his own son.
  • The toxic mother-son relationship between the Countess and Sebastian Von Marburg.
  • The alleged abuse of Rev. Lewis on his daughter Mercy Lewis.
  • Disturbing and a dysfunctional father-son relationship between Increase and Cotton Mather.

Romeo and Juliet situation Edit

  • Mary Sibley and John Alden are a symbol of love thwarted by social norms. John Alden even held his beloved dead Mary in his arms, like Romeo from Shakespeare's play.
  • Dollie Trask and Isaac Walton are a pair of lovers overwhelmed by the wickedness of the world around them. Isaac also held his deceased beloved Dollie in his arms.

One sided love Edit

  • Anne Hale during the first season feels affection for John Alden who is in love with Mary Sibley.
  • Tituba seems to feel much more than just friendship towards Mary.
  • Sebastian Von Marburg is obsessed with Mary Sibley, who does not return his love.
  • Mercy Lewis is in love with Sebastian and idealizes him as Prince Charming.
  • Countess Von Marburg for centuries has been in love with the Devil, who does not return her feelings.

Three-way relationships Edit

  • During the first season, a love triangle is created between Anne Hale, Mary Sibley, and John Alden, with the latter as part of the two women's subject of interest.
  • A new triangle is created in season two between Mary Sibley disputed between Dr. Wainwright (feelings that the woman returns) and Sebastian Von Marburg.
  • Another possible three-way relationship is the one when Mercy Lewis loves Sebastian Von Marburg while he is in love with Mary Sibley, who in turn is in love before with Dr. Wainwright, then of her past love John Alden.
  • In a way, Mary, Tituba, and Mercy had a love triangle of sorts in Season One; at times, Tituba and Mercy seemed to be competing for Mary's attention and affection.

Sexuality Edit

Sexuality is definitely a hot topic (pun intended) in Salem.


  • Dr. Wainwright has erotically stifled Mary Sibley.
  • Dr. Wainwright has tied up with strips of fabric Mary Sibley to a chair for sexual intercourse.
  • Tituba had a sexual encounter with John Alden while the man was chained.
  • Hathorne was pleased to "serve" Countess Von Marburg, starting worshiping at her feet.
  • On several occasion, Mercy Lewis and Hathorne gave examples of a BDSM relationship.
    • Mercy acted as a dominatrix for the vast majority of their sexual encounters, while Hathorne spanked her for sexual pleasure once or twice.

Bromance Edit

  • Cotton Mather and John Alden are affectionately referred to as "Jotton" by Salem fans on social networks such as Tumblr, given a number of scenes the two share acting like a pair of close friend solving mysteries.
  • Both Cotton Mather and John Alden share a variant of their friendly relationship with Isaac Walton.
  • During Season Two, the bromance between John Alden and Cotton is briefly replaced by that of Cotton and Dr. Wainwright, to return again to the bromance between Alden and Cotton to the end of the remaining episodes.

Homosexuality and homoeroticism Edit

  • Tituba and Mary Sibley have kissed in an attempt to seduce George Sibley.
  • Tituba has repeatedly said or shown to feel deep feelings for Mary Sibley. She also said to John Alden that she never needed a man, implying that she's not interested in men at all. Although we have no historical evidence of this, in WGN Salem Tituba seems to be portrayed as a lesbian woman.
  • Mercy Lewis gave her first kiss to Mary Sibley, remaining forbidden by the act. Later she even fiddled with Anne Hale's hair, speaking to her with seductive tone.

Masturbation Edit

  • Sex magic - including masturbation via a wooden shaft - seems to be a practice widely used by witches in their rituals. Masturbation scenes, either self-induced or with a partner, have been shown several times on screen.

Premarital sex Edit

  • Mary Sibley and John Alden have had premarital sex, which has also led to the birth of a child out of wedlock.
  • One of the girls assisted by midwife Bridget Bishop in the first season, became pregnant out of wedlock.

Prostitution Edit

  • Mab and Gloriana Embry, two recurring characters from the first season, were prostitutes.
  • Mary Sibley has been called "Whore of Babylon" by Increase Mather, referring to the homonymous biblical figure heralding the advent of the Biblical Apocalypse.
  • Mercy Lewis, one of the main characters, runs a brothel.

Romantic Two-Girl Friendship[2] Edit

  • Mary Sibley and Tituba perfectly fit this trope.

External Link Edit

References Edit

  1. the phrase in quotation marks is from a discussion about the Anyone Can Die trope in comparison to Bury Your Gays on TV
  2. Romantic Two-Girls Friendship

See Also Edit

Start a Discussion Discussions about Tropes

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