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Human nature has a tendency, a fad if you will, to display traits of selfishness and a “me first, you later” attitude. This sort of thinking often leads people to do unjust or politically incorrect things, and it gets them in trouble with the law, the government, or other people. In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible this sort of trait is shown by many characters, propelling the plot, and killing off more and more innocent people. No character displays this trait better than Reverend Parris, as throughout the script, every action that Parris makes is for a personal gain of some sort, or a level of self-preservation. Reverend Parris, in his acts of freed, self-preservation, and deceit, propels the plot and propels innocent people towards their deaths, all because he wishes to save his reputation and life.
Parris, mostly at the beginning, allows his first character trait of greed to show. This revelation establishes an important baseline, because it manifests his character type, and tells the reasons why he does the many actions he performs later in the play. One example of Parris’ greed is when Parris is speaking to a group of people — Putnam, Proctor, Rebbecca Nurse, and Giles — and makes reference to the money that he should be allowed to be supplied with, as he wants more for firewood. He says that “The salary is sixty six pound, Mr. Proctor! I am not some preaching farmer with a book under my arm; I am a graduate of Harvard College” (Miller, 29). This shows that, because Mr. Parris left Barbados rich and supposedly fits the heroic and charitable image, he still yearns to be wealthy, as well as have power over the town at the same time. Another example of Parris’ greed arises not long after the conversation on wood, when Proctor mentions that Parris is the first minister of many to request a deed to the house that he lives in. Parris responds to this remark by saying, “Man! Don’t a minister deserve a house to live in?” (Miller 30). This, again, shows that Parris wants the comfort of living in affluence, while having the power of being a minister. His statement makes his character trait of greed extremely evident. It also displays to the reader that Parris might do things simply because he is greedy, or because he has ulterior motives. All in all, Parris’ greed, which plays in with other actions, brings out other emotions and voices that often make this particular character look bad. Yet his underhanded personality does not appear to the others visiting in the town, because he appears as a good citizen.
Parris, as the plot progresses, further propels the accusation of witches, basically because he does not want his reputation tarnished or his position impeached. He goes about telling the truth, but he edits out the parts that could make him look in any way disreputable. This tactic shows his character trait of deceit. He is not quite ethical, because leaving out any truly important side of the truth is the same as telling a lie. One can assume that, if this is the case, then he lied at great length over the course of the play. In the beginning, while Parris is first meeting Rev. Hale, the two men have a conversation involving what the girls were doing in the woods. While they talk, he notes that “I think I ought to say that I — I saw a kettle in the grass where they were dancing.” (Miller 42). This ties later with the fact that he forgets to mention this extremely important detail when it is about to bring Abigail down, and save John Proctor. However, to save his reputation (which he thinks John Proctor is working to destroy) he leaves this detail out in order to essentially sentence John to death. He also, throughout the book, changes many of his statements as they best fit the situation, and whether he is speaking to someone who is on his side or not. Another example of Parris’ deceit occurs when he attempts to hide the truth, which he secretly knows. When Proctor presents the depositions with Mary Warren, Parris continuously claims “This is a clear attack upon the court!” (Miller 94). Though Danforth is not swayed by this action, it still shows that Parris is willing to anything to save his reputation, even lie and make false accusations. Parris tries to distract from the argument through this declaration; however, Hale jumps in with his natural logic and goes against the ploy, so that the conversation continues on. Parris, when his tactics are successful, makes characters such as John Proctor and Hale look as though they are the ones telling the lies, even though they are the innocent ones. He is similar to Abigail in this character trait in that the more he lies, the more the other people look guilty.
Overall, Parris’s motivations throughout the play are explained by his negative qualities, like greed and deceit. These qualities come out in a time when his reputation is at risk, and so he lashes out in order to save it. This general action alone accentuates his negative qualities. Parris attacks John, leaves the truth out about Abigail, and constantly begs for more money or material items. Though not all his demonstrations of his horrible character traits propel the plot in a negative direction, his character does evolve throughout the play, and with this evolution comes the destruction of other characters. There is a small chance that, if Parris did not have the characteristics he did, his initial response to what Abigail actually told him would have stopped the plot right in its tracks. Many lives would, indeed, have been saved.
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