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The Crucible

In Arthur Miller’s allegorical play The Crucible, characters are known for their ulterior motives and biased actions. At a point in the play, Anne Putnam says to Rebecca Nurse “There are wheels within wheels in this village and fires within fires.” Miller proposes that the Salem Witch Trials, on which the play is based, were driven by such concealed motives and the influential people who harbored them. Hidden human defects, such as greed, lust, and envy are brought to the surface during these fateful times and murder is a common effect. Characters like Reverend Paris, Abigail Williams and Judge Danforth display their ulterior motives at a variety of times in the story line of the play.

Reverend Paris, for his own greed and pride, fuels the fervor of the witch trials and aids in the murders of dozens. Described as a man who always felt tormented by those around him, he always vied for the good graces of the people whom he preached to and the God whom he preached about. His greatest fear was to be turned out as a minister of Salem and he harbored this fear with the consciousness that there were people in Salem who did not champion him. “There is a faction against me” he cried to the Judges, yet the man was right. He had a fine line that divided those that listened and believed and those that did not. John Proctor, whose name had a weight in the town, refused to have one of his children baptized by Reverend Paris and did not attend church regularly. John proctor reported to Reverend Hale: “Reverend Paris preached about golden candlesticks until he had them. It hurt my prayer to see my money glaring at me in my eyes.” Furthermore, Paris had some inclination that the accusations were false for the reason that he knew Abigail had been dancing in the woods naked with her friends. Upon investigating the scene of the ritual, he came across a pot with a frog in it, a sure sign of witchcraft. He purposely tried to withhold this information from the court in order to make Abigail seem saintly. Reverend Paris had no motive to stop the witch hunts because those condemned were often those who were in the faction against him. He could be rid of those who diverged with him and furthermore draw his believers closer to him, for they would see him as the holy leader of Salem’s purification. He could have saved lives, but he did not. He was the wheel within the wheel. He moved forward for his own ambition and moved Salem into a darkness that even he would come to regret. His own actions come back to haunt him: a dagger is pushed into his door and the townspeople see that he loses his position as minister of Salem.

Abigail Williams, for reasons of envy and lust, spearheads the subplot of the play that leads to the murders of the Witch trials. Abigail Williams is the fire within the fire. Her desire for John Proctor is really what starts the trials. She’s the spark that led to a flame that led to the entire village of Salem being engulfed in flames. At a time, the girl was working for Goody Proctor, the wife of John Proctor. When Goody Proctor found out that her husband was having an affair with Abigail, Goody Proctor put her out as a harlot, yet Abigail Williams loved John Proctor to an unhealthy, unreasonable degree. She thought that if she could remove Goody proctor from the picture that John would be hers and love her without the guilt his wife made him suffer. As John said at the trial “She hopes to dance with me on my wife’s grave.” Abigail went into the forest with her friends and slave Tituba to conjure a love spell to make John Proctor love her, yet Abigail turned the childish game into something more serious. According to Betty Paris, Abigail drank blood with a charm in it to kill Goody Proctor. This was the type of witchcraft that Abigail would come to accuse others of. Abigail’s intentions throughout the play are to be rid of Goody Proctor so that John Proctor will love her. Her view of reality is foggy as she remains focused on this one point throughout the play until her own faults become apparent to her. She manipulates situations to twist them to her liking for reasons also of power. Reverend Paris, along with most of the town had believed up until the trials that children were nothing but grateful for all that they had and that these children were innocent beings that had no substantial rank in the village. With the accusations came a new power for each of the girls that they used without much hesitation. These girls could call a name, a mere mention and the accused would be arrested. During Mary Warren’s testimony of truth, Williams suddenly broke into cries of a bird, an ugly yellow bird that swooped down from the rafters and tried to kill her. She made claims that Marry Warren was a witch, her demonstration being an obvious contrivance to throw the court into a brief hysteria. Her lust for John Proctor and her envy of Goody Proctor run dry when John Proctor is imprisoned and set to hang. At this point, she now understands the consequences her actions and runs away.

Judge Danforth hoped all of his self-righteous efforts in Salem would strengthen the theocracy of Massachusetts, but with his actions, he broke it completely. Historians have described the Salem witch trials as period of hysterics, during which the theocracy of Salem was startled to find that it had not the rigid, uniform population that it had desired, but a fluid and diverse one. This describes Danforth as he hopes to “cleanse” the town of Salem. Others in the play used the witch trials to settle old scores and take what was their neighbor’s. Their sins were covetous and lustful. Danforth’s sin was pride. At multiple times in the play, Danforth had enough clarity to see the falsehood of the accusations made by the girls. He was told outright by Reverend Hale. He understood how the witch trials were affecting the townspeople and saw chaos take hold, a chaos that he helped to inflict. His response was if he continued and let the witch trials run their course, then the town would again be his and the corruption in Salem would end. He was a self righteous fool who longed to purge Massachusetts of vice and sin. He took his stature as a judge very seriously yet had little perception to see that the only corruption in Salem was the corruption he brought with him. He justified murder, and exalted the murderers. The authority he came with was what allowed blood to spilled in the name of revenge, greed, lust, pride and envy. He is to blame for the frenzy of the time. When asking for confessions, he often asked the accused if they were asked to sign a book by the devil. He then asks them to sign a written confession. Those who did not confess knew that by signing Judge Danforth’s book, they were signing a compact with the devil. Many hang throughout the play for this reason. At the anagnorisis of the play, John proctor realizes that to be allowed to live, he must make a “confession” and he must not only bear false witness against himself, but also against the others who are to hang, or who have hanged already. John cannot commit this falsehood and so, at the culmination of the play, John gives his life for his principles. When John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse die, the strength of theocracy in Salem dies with them.

In conclusion, the frenzy of the period known as the Salem Witch trials was in many ways guided not by the true ideals of a holy crusade against the devil. This was just as façade as the true reasoning behind the murders was the vice of man, as murders are. The hidden motives of a few key characters and the demonstration of how far religion can be taken and the dangers of having religion too closely intermingled with governmental power, exemplify all that happened in the spring of 1692. Reverend Hale at one point in the play said that “Life is god’s most precious gift and no principle, however glorious justifies the taking of it.” If these words had been heeded rather than the eight little words that led to this madness, (Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live) then perhaps history for the quiet village of Salem would have taken a different path.



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