In Gilmore Girls, aka the best show ever written, bright-eyed Rory Gilmore is continually seen reading a wide array of books. Whether in preparation for Harvard or for her time at Yale, she is always improving herself via literature.
Juxtapose this with Patrick Lenton, who found himself re-reading The Wheel of Time for the seventeenth time, grimly hoping the ingrained misogyny might somehow disappear if he just believed hard enough. What happened to his days of challenging himself? What about that one time he read Moby Dick and felt good for eight years? Patrick decided to take a leaf out of Rory’s books and read Rory’s books.
This week’s Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge is covered by guest reviewer Veronica Sullivan.
50.) The Crucible
Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible traces the catastrophic effects of mass hysteria. A group of teenage girls in a small Massachusetts town conspire, largely unconsciously, to accuse dozens of their fellow townsfolk of witchcraft and devil worship. The accused are tried in a (frankly utterly inept) court of law; found guilty and executed.
Some stories are whirling dervishes: they propel themselves, and the reader is lucky if they can keep up. The Crucible has all the momentum and suspense of a thriller, paradoxically combined with historical inevitability – the Salem witch trials would not be renowned as a landmark failing in American judicial and religious history if everyone had decided not to execute a bunch of innocent people.
As with the darkest episodes in history, the horror of the Salem witch trials requires that they be continually recounted and remembered, else they are doomed to be repeated. The Crucible is the definitive fictional retelling of the trials, and operates simultaneously as allegory and indictment of the equally hysterical and often baseless McCarthyism that gripped 1950s America. Though it is a deeply historical text, the play continues to breathe and resonate with the contemporary era (don’t worry, I’m getting to the Gilmore Girls part).
In The Crucible, the accused witches are punished for failing to adhere to the rigid societal structures and strictures of 1690s America. Some merely question the processes under which their friends and family have been found guilty, and in doing so call their own culpability into question and are executed. Three hundred years later, the groupthink of small-town New England remains stubbornly static – at least in Stars Hollow.
In the world of Gilmore Girls, a stunted form of supposed liberalism reigns. It’s frequently mentioned, always with a note of self-congratulation, that the town not only accepted Lorelai despite her getting pregnant out of wedlock at sixteen, but banded together as a community to help her raise Rory (it takes a village, etc.). But Stars Hollow is only a salvage, a refuge, for those who remain palatable to the majority. Straightness and whiteness are at the top of this invisible hierarchy, along with respect for civil harmony.
When Jess crashes Rory’s car and breaks her wrist, he is essentially driven out of town by an angry mob – their weapons not pitchforks and torches, but hissed innuendo against the boy who hurt ‘their’ golden child. The small-town witch-hunt mentality is rife in Stars Hollow, and the desire for harmony can rapidly spiral into aggressive tactics designed to eliminate any undesirable element – in this case, a sixteen-year-old boy. All it takes is one voice to lead the charge – surely Stars Hollow’s blustering Town Selectman Taylor Doose and Salem’s greedy, craven Reverend Samuel Parris were separated at birth.
And spare a thought for Lane Kim: another teenage girl condemned for straying outside the lines, and thrust upon the conditional mercy of religion. With her religious fervour and moral conservatism, Mrs Kim would have been at home in Salem.
Mrs Kim’s primary motivation is to protect her daughter, a desire born from deep love and care; but often in its expression this love looks much like forced compliance, pre-emptive punishment and sociopathic control. Mrs Kim forbids Lane from listening to punk music, and locks her away in her room for several months after she is seen in public with a boy. Like the Salem ‘witches’, Lane is guilty until proven innocent, and her innocence is impossible to prove.
Lane’s secret respite is her closet, the interior of which is decorated with psychedelic disco lights and a nest of blankets, and filled with the forbidden objects of teenage girlhood. It’s a space where sacred feminine riot grrrl artefacts are sequestered, and in time acquire the power of the taboo. In Salem, girls were hanged for less.
Curious to see the full reading list? You can view it here.
Veronica Sullivan is prize manager of the Stella Prize. She is a 2016 Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow, and is on the steering committee for the inaugural Feminist Writers’ Festival. She has written for publications including Overland, Right Now, The Lifted Brow, Archer and Feminartsy. You can find her @veronicaahhh.