Belonging in The Crucible #
The Puritans #
Following the Protestant reformation of 1525, and Henry the VIII’s establishment of the Church of England, a number of splintering religious sects began to emerge. Initially they were broadly called “The Puritans”, until other labels identified distinctive break away groups.
The Puritans¹ had formed a theocratic monolithic state (religious leaders) of like minded citizens for protection, security and unity. In order to belong, members had to sacrifice their individuality and conform to rigid moral, religious and social codes. To keep it in place they used repressive laws and sanctions such as whipping, hanging and excommunication for those who transgressed or broke rigid rules.
¹Mencken’s famous definition of puritanism is:
“the haunting fear that someone somewhere is enjoying themselves”.
An austere fanatical sect of pious pioneers whose creed forbade anything resembling “fun” is being challenged by the youthful Abigail and her friends who merely exhibit an assertion of individual spirit through a rebellious release of basic instinctive primordial needs built up by a repressive and suppressive society. This society has a predilection for minding other people’s business – sending out two man patrols on Sundays to report on those not attending church services.
After 70 years in America, tensions were becoming evident as younger people began to question the hypocrisy and authority of its leaders. General moves to greater individual freedom and personal fulfilment emerged due to a diminishing threat from the natives and increased affluence.
A society or community is developed for mutual support and harmony. If this society is egalitarian based on mutual respect and voluntary social compliance, it is likely to provide for all its members. Where the power structures are hierarchical and imposed by an authoritarian elite, dissention can cause social disharmony that becomes divisive and destructive. 70 years after its idealistic founding, Salem became that kind of a society. It was a conformist theocratic society that punished non-conformism by ex-communication, ostracism or even the death penalty by hanging. Conflict arose between a rigidly imposed communal, unanimous and monolithic society when the assertion of individual needs – self –development and personal fulfilment erupted.
Youthful rebellion #
Abigail’s clique of girls were merely rebelling against repressive sexual expression by releasing their basic primal instincts. The real culprit was Mrs Putnam who urged her daughter Ruth to conjure the spirits of her dead children, yet she eludes sanction, pinning the blame on an innocent Rebecca Nurse.
People who wish to exclude other people will often accuse them of a heinous crime that is punishable by death or banishment – here excommunication. Actual witch hunts were common practice in Medieval times, but today the term applies broadly to anyone who tries to brand, label or smear people with labels that will destroy them. In 1950’s America, just to be called a liberal or left wing was often enough to have you branded as a communist sympathiser if not a secret agent in the fifth column.
Salem is full of people frightened that they’ll be the next to be accused of an invisible, impossible-to-disprove crime. This fear is palpable.
Whenever through mass hysteria, or collective madness, fear develops into vortex of emotion that suspends reason, innocent individuals can be destroyed. Recent fanatical and overly zealous campaigns have developed into witch hunts for suspected paedophiles and terrorists.
Judges — Hawthorne, Danforth — Outsiders who carry a lot of power.
They are the gate-keepers who decide who lives and dies. Arrogant and highhanded, they refuse to entertain evidence contrary to their mindset. At the end their only twisted defence is that they “cannot turn back as twelve have already been hanged” Despite their claims of seeing through lies and recognising only truth, they are truly evil because of their blind arrogance and wilful ignorance.
Hale Outsider to the village of Salem but an insider to the power base— initially part of the system — able to see through the facade of legality. As the furore spreads beyond his control begins to doubt his assurance at the beginning and becomes an outsider to the power base.
Parris —an outsider who has taken over the village church for only 3 years and found a lot of resistance to his “hell and brimstone” preaching, He is a divisive failed politician/church leader Because he is insecure, paranoid and petty, he is self serving and desperate to protect his position as minister. Despite the creed of asceticism he craves “gold candles” for the altar.
The Putnams Both have ulterior motives in eliminating other people. They are greedy, self-centred, revengeful, ruthless, fixated on land lust — covetous, litigiousness and acquisitiveness over land.
Mrs Putnam’s loss of the seven children should create suspicion on her being a witch but she turns this around through projection to Rebecca Nurse. Mrs Putnam is jealous of happy families.
Her greatest crime was to incite her ten year old daughter, Ruth to conjure the spirits of her seven dead siblings.
Hapless Victims and Dissenters: #
Tituba — An outsider because she is from Barbados and black. She is a convenient scapegoat for Abigail and the girls to blame for their risqué dance in the forest. She is hysterical, easily frightened; a “darkie’.
John Proctor- an insider, he is admired and respected but he feels, because of his moral “fall” he is not worthy of this respect. He is reluctant to attend church as he disagrees with the tactic of inducing “fear” in people to make them compliant (as well as his contempt for Parris’ extravagance) and is seen as distant and uninvolved.
He is individualistic, passionate, sexual and emotional in his defence of Elizabeth. His guilt is his warmth. All these traits make him atypical in the Puritan community and therefore separate from the other characters in the play. His moral courage to reject hypocrisy and the miscarriage of justice is heroic. His decision to tear up his confession preserves his integrity but forces the ultimate rejection or alienation– his death by hanging.
Miller believed that the human individual conscience was all that could keep the world from falling.
Elizabeth — cold, aloof, distant— moralistic, self-righteous and not well liked by others. Elizabeth is one of the few characters to grow and her three month stay in prison allows her to reflect on her life and acknowledge her “coldness” and realise the goodness in her husband John.
“It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery.”
“I never knew how I should say my love. It was a cold house I kept” (119)
She refuses to try to persuade him to save his own life;
“He has his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him now.”
Rebecca Nurse — insider who becomes alienated by the accusations— matriarchal good old woman — meek. Ironically, because she is a successful mother, she must be bewitched!
Giles Corey — insider who is also isolated for ulterior motives; The Putnams want his land. He remains defiant to the end: “More weight”. His refusal to deny or confess protects his land from being seized and now must go to his beneficiaries.
Manipulators initially youthful rebels to the strictness of a repressive society, they are powerless and vulnerable to severe disciplinary procedures (hanging) if exposed. By Projection, they turn the tables and become a powerful cabal and become the believed accusers of others.
Abigail: an orphan, Abigail is insecure and needs the support of her friends. She has been dismissed from service from the Proctor residence after a sexual affair with John is discovered by Elizabeth and has been unable to gain other employment.
When accused of witchcraft, a crime punishable by hanging, she retaliates by pointing fingers at others (projection) firstly Tituba and eventually Elizabeth, hoping to revive her relationship with John Proctor.
Realising the power derived by these allegations she soon consolidates her power through the loyal unity of her minion clique of girls who through hysteria and fear bewitch the court and cause the death of at least 19 innocent people. After this whirlwind of destruction she and her friends leave Salem to flee the country on a ship.
Domineering, Determined, egotistical, jealous, sensual, revengeful, randomly evil, sexual, lusty, seductress, amoral, ruthless, mendacious…
All the girls are hysterical and easily led.
Susan Wallcot - foolish, silly
Mercy Lewis ignorant — lacking strength or insight
Mary Warren - A servant of the Proctors, she represents the hope of exposing the hypocrisy and fraudulent allegations of Abigail, until in the courtroom the vortex of hysterical screaming at an imaginary bird, she falls victim to the dominance of Abigail, cowers and betrays John Proctor for the security and protection of Abigail’s group.
Betty Parris – Ruth Putnam - adolescent girls – 10 yrs old, bullied into submission by Abigail.