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“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” – Joseph Conrad
The Salem witchcraft trials illuminate a great human campaign to rid society of the wicked devil and his sinful messengers. However nobly intended, these trials create an era of fear and hysteria, generating an outlet for the evil persons of Salem to raise their reputations at the expense of the good. In effect, it becomes apparent that the accusers do not possess a power to prove another of a “Satanic alliance”, but rather branch their motivations from ambition, a theory probed by Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. Afraid of the severe penalties for secretly dancing in the forest and chanting spells, characters such as Tituba and Abigail Williams accuse others of witchcraft for their self-preservation. Capitalizing on this newly acquired power, Abby’s self-preservation transforms into a strong desire to do harm unto others and quench her great lust for power. Moreover, other individuals such as Thomas Putnam endanger the lives of others simply to satisfy their insatiable greed and self-interest. As a result, the accusers in the witchcraft trials become the embodiment of sin, fed by their varied ambitions.
Ironically enough, because Salem’s stern religious ethic controls all aspects of society and promotes safeguards against all immoralities and sins, the townspeople are somewhat provoked to test these prevailing social values. This becomes the case with a group of young girls lead by Abigail Williams and Tituba, who secretly dance “like heathen in the forest” (1 10) and “conjure up dead spirits” (1 16), all tell-tale elements of witchery. Soon enough however, rumors spread and “the whole country’s talkin’ witchcraft”, a definite “hangin’ error” (1 19). Terrified, the girls entrap themselves in an atmosphere of hysteria and apprehension searching for the most painless means of ensuring their protection: shifting the blame onto someone else. Thus, in a climatic moment of confession led by Tituba, Abigail claims to “want to open [herself]” and embrace “the sweet love of Jesus” as well as announce the names of those who “trafficked with the Devil” (1 50). Consequentially, by lying, the girls become perpetual sinners; nevertheless, are able to reflect the severe punishments of witchcraft from themselves and uphold their self-preservation.
Coincidentally, the girls’ initial identities as the vulnerable pawns of the devil’s grand scheme rapidly transform into those of famed yet feared celebrities among the people of Salem. Taking this reality to her advantage, the opportunistic Abigail is able to expose her true malignant character by intentionally attempting to destroy the lives of others to satisfy her corrupt conscience. One such an example is her plot against Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of her former lover, John Proctor. “She is blackening my name in the village! She is telling likes about me! She is a cold, sniveling woman!” (1 24). Expressing her grievances that stem from jealousy and extreme hatred, Abigail substantiates her need for revenge. Thus, Abigail testifies to the court that it was Elizabeth’s “familiar spirit that stuck a needle two inches into the flesh of her [Abigail’s] belly” (2 79). Because of the lack of any material evidence to disprove this claim, Elizabeth is automatically accused of witchcraft and taken away. Moreover, Abby’s motivation for malevolence broadens even more to satisfy her growing hunger for control and authority and reassure herself of her above-the-law status. While in court, Abigail threatens, “Let you beware, Mr. Danforth. Think you to be so mighty that the power of Hell may not turn your wits? Beware of it!” (3 113) In this situation, Abigail declares herself as even a menace to a powerful and esteemed Judge, declaring her true prevailing authority even over a high-ranking official. Therefore, by developing and defining her true motivation for evil as doing harm to others as well as satisfying her interminable desire for power, Abigail is able to divulge the wide capacity of her truly wicked character.
Correspondingly, other people in the town of Salem also recognize the witch trials as an outlet to attain their varied desires and ambitions. Thomas Putnam, a wealthy farmer obsessed with his riches, uses and instigates the executions of others to profit economically. As a result, he is able to allow his incalculable greed and self-interest champion his morality and ethics. Putnam is said to have “coldly prompted [his] daughter to cry witchery upon George Jacobs” for “If Jacobs hangs for a witch he forfeit up his property? And there is none but Putnam with the coin to buy so great a piece. This man is killing his neighbors for their land!” (3 101). Of course, although Putnam cautiously manages to deny the accusation, it is quite true that nothing more than his yearn for more land stimulates the execution of the innocent George Jacobs. Thus, as a slave to the pleasures of the materialistic world, Thomas Putnam is coldly able to condemn others of an undeserving execution because of his prevailing greed and self-interest, and in doing so, becomes the ultimate sinner.
The many accusers in the witchcraft trials succumb to the definition of sin itself, corruptly powered by their different ambitions. Thomas Putnam is hastily able to endanger the lives of others in order to satisfy his self-interest and his perpetual hunger for more, undermining any moral or ethical conduct he might uphold. The vile and opportunistic Abigail is able to unveil herself as a true dark, spiteful, and malicious individual that uses the witchcraft trials as an opportunity to ruin the lives of others as well as quench her undying lust for power. In a state of great fear and desperation, the naïve Tituba and Abigail are able to deflect the penalties of witchcraft off themselves and maintain their state of self-preservation. In conclusion, while the trials of life may deem some sinners champions, the trials of the eternal life have yet to come.
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