In the play of ‘the crucible,’ the restricted, rule-bound, Christian town of Salem was put under siege by the courts, who were trying people who were suspected of witchcraft, and then hanging them if they didn’t admit to it. Abigail William’s was caught dancing in the woods, along with the reverend’s daughter. She lied, and said that she was being controlled by the devil, and that was the reason for the suspicious dealings in the woods. She accused many people of dealing with the devil, who in turn accused others, to get themselves excused.
Only a few people stood up to the courts and said they had no dealings with witchcraft, and they were each hung. After the hangings had taken place, it was discovered that the girls had been lying, and the innocent people had been hung for no feasible reason. At the time when Arthur Miller wrote ‘the Crucible,’ there were current affairs which would have reflected the play. The threat of nuclear warfare was looming, mainly because of differences of opinions over communism. Many people were called to court accused of ‘un-American activities’ and persecuted if they couldn’t prove themselves otherwise.
It was a way for the governing people to have a hold over the citizens. People were fleeing their country to escape the persecution they had to endure because of their beliefs. This was similar prior to when the Salem witch trials happened. People were leaving England for America for a new life as serious Christian communities, where they wouldn’t be mistreated because of their beliefs. The believers who set up the communities believed in absolute Christianity, and abolished and shunned anything that they believed was anti-Christian.
The community of Salem feared anything beyond their own safe boundaries, so when the girls were discovered to have been dancing in the woods, that would have shocked on two accounts. The fact that they had left the confines of the village would have been enough to punish or persecute alone, but the fact that they were dancing was enough to almost damn them to the devil. Parris jumps to conclusions and thinks that the girls were conjuring spirits, when most likely they had just been dancing.
Abigail is desperate to try and persuade him from his witchcraft theory, ‘But we never conjured spirits,’ but Parris is so frantic that he won’t accept this as a feasible excuse, and looks further for a reason. He cannot be seen, as the Reverend, to allow his relations to be dancing, which was banned. He asks Abigail, ‘Did you call the devil last night? ‘ She replies with, ‘I never called him! Tituba, Tituba… ‘ This is a perfect example of human nature, to blame someone else to get yourself out of trouble.
This is used throughout the play, as when someone is accused, they lie and accuse someone else to get themselves excused. There were many personal rifts in the town of Salem. Thomas Putnam was averse to anyone who owned land, because he wanted to expand his, and was often arguing or taking people to court over this reason. Abigail and Elizabeth were enemies because of their shared love for John Proctor. Giles Corey seemed to have a problem with anyone who believed in the operations, because he was one of the only people in the village who could see and believed what a sham the witch hunts really were.
Mrs Putnam hated Goody Nurse because she seemed unable to keep a child, whereas Goody Nurse had a very large family, which Mrs Putnam resented her deeply for. All these disputes inside the community showed that it wasn’t as strong as some liked to make out, leaving room for dispute and accusations, without an uprising, because the community wasn’t close enough to rebel against the authority of Danforth and Hathorne’s period of influence. When Parris was so quick to shun the blame onto the devil, he was using a perfect example of the characteristics shown by the weak or scared people of Salem.
He invited Hale to join the dealings, instead of punishing his daughter and niece accordingly, because he would rather believe that the devil came to them, than that they disobeyed him and shamed his name as Reverend. Hale brought the devil into proceedings which needed no supernatural explanation, ‘Did you call the devil last night? ‘ This put an idea into Abigail’s head of how to evade responsibility for her actions, and which fuelled pandemonium, because she didn’t want to be punished for dancing as it was looked upon as a heinous thing to do in Salem, which was a very restrictive atmosphere.
When presented with the idea that the girl’s confessions of witchcraft are dishonest, Danforth and Hathorne refuse to believe it on the grounds that they are high in the hierarchy of the village, and smart enough to know when someone was lying to them. They also believed the only reason that they had not been targeted was because the devil wouldn’t dare try to enlist them as his workers. Danforth is nai?? ve enough to say, ‘You are combined with the anti-Christ, are you not? to John Proctor, when, in reality; Proctor hadn’t done anything but rebel against the authority of the court. Danforth and Hathorne genuinely believed, to begin with, that witchcraft was in Salem, but I think towards the end they knew that the girls had lied, but they were in too deep to go back without blood on their hands. Abigail, because of her blinkered love for John Proctor, believed that he would reach for her again like he had done before, if she told him to. Her vanity makes her unable to see that he doesn’t want her anymore.
He even calls her, ‘a lump of vanity,’ which shows that her vanity is apparent to everyone. Sometimes, vanity clouds judgement, which is another reason the residents of Salem were so readily conned by the girls. The girls were believed, and able to concoct such heinous stories because of many factors. People were using the hunts as opportunities to extort revenge on their enemies, where they wouldn’t have been able to before. They were naming them, and then reaping the benefits.
Abigail and the girls used the witch excuse as (they thought to begin with) an easy way out of their dancing misdemeanour, but it soon developed into mad slaughter. Parris used the witch hunts as a way of showing his authority, and getting the attention away from the fact that his daughter and niece were caught dancing. Also, the image of children has always been that they are innocent, so the townspeople would have seen the girls tales’ as truth, because they are above suspicion. People confessed to seeing the devil, too.
The audience knows that they only admitted to these ridiculous happenings to get themselves excused, but with people refusing to admit to it, people would have wondered why they would lie if it wasn’t true, especially in such a restrictive Christian village. Whenever someone spoke up and said they thought the idea of witches was ridiculous (John Proctor, Giles Corey etc) they were accused. People saw this, and didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of them. It was a case of mass hysteria, almost a chain reaction due to people reacting to each other’s panic.