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In the time period of 1692, when the Puritans came to this country for religious freedom, they had a strict moral code which everyone in the village lived by. Religion was especially important. The state was founded on religion, built on religion, thrived on politics, which proved to be a very social life. Witchcraft was looked down upon by religious groups, whom believed that witches could cast spells on people. They had a great fear of defying God and also believed that they should do all in their power to punish people who would do just this.
Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” is an excellent example of how all of these morals and beliefs are disassembled simply by the emotion, vengeance and misunderstandings stemming from five seemingly ordinary girls. Each of the characters plays an important role in creating this hysteria known as the Salem Witch Trials. From the beginning, when the girls were caught dancing in the woods by Reverend Parris, until the very end, when John Proctor is accused of being a witch himself, false beliefs keep this big misunderstanding from ending. With these thoughts in mind, one may believe that the whole witchcraft scare was completely fabricated. The evidence to support this conclusion can easily be found by looking a little deeper into the literature.
Abigail Williams, who was caught dancing in the woods by Reverend Parris, was a very manipulative person. Portrayed as a leader of the girls who began this epidemic of accusing people of witchcraft. She instills fear in the other girls convincing them to do what she says. Obviously, the suspicion of witch craft isn’t proving anything since she threatens the girls so they don’t tell the truth about dancing in the woods. Abigail instills fear in the other girls by using past experiences from her own hard life to threaten them. Abigail to Betty and Mary Warren threatens:
“And mark this. Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you know I can do it; I saw Indians smash my dear parents’ heads on the pillow next to mine and I have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!” (Miller 132).
Simple threats like these assist the witchcraft hysteria. This last quote by Abigail can lead one to believe that she may have known what she was doing. She had found a way to use this to her advantage; getting back at the people who had wronged her.
Abigail secretly had an affair with John Proctor while she worked in his home. John asserts that he wants nothing to do with Abigail, yet she is still infatuated with him. Elizabeth, John’s wife, dishonored her because of this. Abigail held an on-going grudge against Elizabeth. To Abigail, accusing Elizabeth could the perfect revenge. Abigail wanted Elizabeth to die so her and John could “dance on her grave”. Quickly she was made aware of the power of accusation against ordinary people.
Many other residents soon fall victim to their outrageous plot. Reverend Parris expressed his beliefs that the girls were not witches only because of his fear of losing his good name. He claimed that they were just ill. Of course, that is exactly how they appeared to be. The girls’ actions, and the hints of witchcraft surrounding his daughter, Betty’s coma, will threaten his reputation and force him from the church. This put more tension between him and John Proctor. John had stopped going to church because Parris only preached hell fire and damnation. Along with his lectures, witchcraft fit right in. John and Parris’s didn’t see eye to eye on how religion should be preached nor on the whole witchcraft issue at hand. John knew of Abigail’s manipulative personality. She had also met with him and told him about their accusations being a fraud. He had the information yet he could not come right out and tell everyone that she was lying on the count of the affair they had earlier. If he would come forward and say that Abigail was a fraud, she would then proceed to tell the court that John is a lecher. The fact that he committed adultery with her is not going to disappear just because they are in the midst of a witchcraft trial. Proctor makes the decision to keep his mouth shut about the matter and attempts to stay out of the trials by refusing to go to court and testify.
Mary Warren, who works in the Proctors’ home, participates in the trials. She returned home with the news that Elizabeth’s name has been mentioned in court. Reverend Hale, who is assisting in questioning the accused, soon arrives at the Proctors’ with news that Rebecca Nurse, a much respected citizen of Salem, has also been charged. He questions them about their faith. They were very sincere about their beliefs in God, but when Hale asked John to recite the 10 Commandments he stuttered through it, ironically leaving out the very important “thou shalt not commit adultery”. Soon they receive word that there have been several other accusations made against notably respected citizens. The girls had called out names in court, which is without a doubt an irrational thing to do. Obviously these girls didn’t have rock solid evidence against these women whom they were accusing, or perhaps just held a grudge against them, such as Abigail held against Elizabeth Proctor.
John Proctor quickly catches on the pattern of events in Salem. Cue to his wife being accused, he seems to have reached his boiling point and can no longer stay out of the trial. He sees the truth in these trials, the driving force behind it, “I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem – vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law! This warrant’s vengeance! I’ll not give my wife to vengeance!” (73).
In an attempt to free his wife, John Proctor goes to the court with Mary Warren who had admitted to him that she had not seen any spirits and that the other girls were lying. Parris, who is present in court, shouts out that Proctor is trying to overthrow the court. Still, afraid for his own reputation, Parris tries to portray Abigail as an angel and John as a crazy fool who has nothing better to bring himself court and distract the trial by just trying to free his wife, as Parris keeps saying. Mary, who is seems extremely shaken, will not speak in court, so John had her sign a paper that says that the whole witchcraft incident is a hoax. Judge Danforth calls the other girls into the room. The girls turn against Mary and accuse her of having her spirit attack them in the room. Mary cries and begs them to stop. Knowing that Abigail is lying, John accuses her of being a whore and in doing so, admits to committing adultery. Once again, the dilemma, once again takes a turn for the unexpected and Abigail accuses John of being a liar. John then tells the court that his wife knows the truth. The yelling continues with the girls. Mary then runs into Abigail’s arms and accuses John of being in pact with the devil. Once again strange actions have taken place, Mary goes back to Abigail. Mary knows that Abigail is vengeful and doesn’t want to be on her bad side because she will suffer the consequences and possibly being hanged.
In the final moments in the courtroom John Proctor denounces his faith. He accuses Judge Danforth as being as low as himself.
“A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud – God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together!” (119-120)
By saying this, he is trying to convince everyone of the obvious truth, the truth about what is happening in Salem. There is a little game going on that consists of pointing fingers and watching enemies meet a horrible fate. At this point, Danforth doesn’t know what to think. What the judge in concerned about now is protecting his reputation of being stern and straight to the point. Consequently, when John is revealing the truth he is locked up in a cell since Danforth found him to be a threat to his authority.
Months later, nearing the hangings, Hale and Parris are praying with the accused to help them save themselves. Come to find out, Abigail has left town with her uncle, Parris’s, life savings. At the time she must have been fairly content with herself for thinking up such a plan, if getting money and leaving town was her intent from the beginning. In the prison, Elizabeth and John are brought back together after months of separation. They discuss the past and Elizabeth apologizes for being so cold toward John when speaking of Abby. This was all her fault that they were in the jail. How could just an ordinary girl accomplish such a task? Obviously, the town was a little paranoid of witchcraft to begin with. If Salem wasn’t a bit afraid of witches in the village, the trials would have never been taken as far as they had been. Pushed to the point where innocent people were dying, giving their lives for a foolish children’s game that could have been avoided if they would have considered the source of the madness; a few little girls looking to seek revenge on people who they didn’t like, to put it bluntly.
Looking at this ordeal as a whole, it’s all a little more than ironic. The girl that started it all, Abigail, flees town when the situation gets serious, as if embarrassed that she started a hysteria that would affect Salem and the surrounding villages for many years. The lying, deceiving, misinterpretations, and vengeance were the driving force behind these trials. Salem had been hit hard by an epidemic of imaginations and the inter-children of the residents of Salem. Emotions had been taking over peoples’ good judgment. Vengeance is human nature; in this case, it was rampant and used as a tool to demolish enemies and overturn a small Massachusetts village.
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