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During times of uncertainty, fear tends to manifest itself in ugly ways. In The Crucible by Arthur Miller, the colonists of the foreboding new world were holy people whose lives were dictated by their complete devotion to God. The Puritan people, as believers of original sin and predestination, also lived with a constant fear and uncertainty of whether they were the chosen ones, or whether the wrath of an angry God would soon be upon them. Though the people of Salem could not show this fear through emotion or conversation, this apprehension became apparent during the witch-hunt. In Salem, the vengeful members of the community were able to prey on people’s uncertainty to take revenge on people they disliked. This combined with people’s legitimate belief of the devil sent the town into a downward spiral. The ultimate downfall of Salem during the witch trials came from the corruption of a theocracy, the absolutely conformity of the Puritan people, and the ability of manipulative people to exploit people’s fears.
At the beginning of the play, the scene is set in Reverend Parris’ household, where his daughter Betty is sick in her bed and rumors of witchcraft have swept through Salem. Both Reverend Parris is concerned about the fact that this controversy is surrounding him, and is worried about the repercussions on his job. Reverend Parris has taken in Abigail, who is suspicious in the community for being thrown out of the Proctor’s house, and he also has enemies in the community who believe he does not deserve his job. He has reason to be scared that the community would use the accusations against him, and as Reverend Parris says “there is a faction that is sworn to drive me from my pulpit,” (10). He believes that the accusation of witchcraft will compromise his job, and this fear leads him to become one of the accusers and enables the unwarranted witch-hunt. Since Reverend Parris is the minister of the theocratic community, what he says carries great weight on how the people in Salem act. He has the ability to accuse people of going against the church, and being unreligious, an unwritten crime in Salem. To protect himself he has to completely commit to the belief in the witches, even though at the beginning of the book, when there is suspected witchcraft in his house he denies it. His position allows him to be present in court and feed the accusations, adding to the “legitimacy” of the girls’ arguments. In addition to having a corrupt minister, the religious people of Salem, are also in constant fear of their standing in the church. They live with the uncertainty of whether they were chosen, or predetermined, to go to heaven or hell by God. Because they live by the religious law, and the ultimate ruling of an invisible being, how could they deny the existence of the invisible spirits the girls believed to be so real? These beliefs led them to question themselves, and conform to the beliefs of their corrupt religious leaders, which led to their eventual downfall.
Giles Corey, upon the arrival of Reverend Hale, inquires about the normalcy of his wife reading mysterious books. Though this seems harmless this inquiry eventually leads to her incarceration and death. The people of Salem live in a strict community, where even before the witch-hunt started, you could not do anything that would make others question your actions. Any action that was at all different could have serious repercussions on anyone involved. The first example of this is the very beginning of act one, where Reverend Parris is questioning Abby on why she was dancing in the woods. This act of unconformity was one of the main factors in the downfall of Salem because in order to justify these actions Abigail is forced into accusing the Devil and people possessed by the Devil in order to clear her name. From then on anyone who did something unconventional in the past or during the hunt was a witch, because just like the dancing girls, they must be possessed. The people of Salem were then searching, and constantly wondering what actions seemed to be like that of the Devil.
In a religious society most people are expected to be holy and selfless, but in Salem vengeance and greed dictates the actions of two vital characters: Abigail Williams and Thomas Putnam. Both Abigail and Putnam recognize the great gains that they can achieve from accusing others of witchcraft. Abigail’s main focus during the witch-hunt was killing the wife of her lover John Proctor, and gaining power in the community. At first her plan is looking great, she is famous in Salem.
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