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The Crucible


by Arthur Miller
In " The Crucible" by Arthur Miller, the madness of the
Salem witch trials is explored in great detail. There are
many theories as to why the witch trials came about, the
most popular of which is the girls' suppressed childhoods.
However, there were other factors as well, such as Abigail
Williams' affair with John Proctor, the secret grudges that
neighbors held against each other, and the physical and
economic differences between the citizens of Salem Village.
From a historical viewpoint, it is known that young girls
in colonial Massachusetts were given little or no freedom
to act like children. They were expected to walk straight,
arms by their sides, eyes slightly downcast, and their
mouths were to be shut unless otherwise asked to speak. It
is not surprising that the girls would find this type of
lifestyle very constricting. To rebel against it, they
played pranks, such as dancing in the woods, listening to
slaves' magic stories and pretending that other villagers
were bewitching them. 

" The Crucible" starts after the girls in the village have
been caught dancing in the woods. As one of them falls
sick, rumors start to fly that there is witchcraft going on
in the woods, and that the sick girl is bewitched. Once the
girls talk to each other, they become more and more
frightened of being accused as witches, so Abigail starts
accusing others of practicing witchcraft. The other girls
all join in so that the blame will not be placed on them.
In " The Crucible", Abigail starts the accusations by
saying, "I go back to Jesus; I kiss his hand. I saw Sarah
Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I
saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!" Another girl, Betty,
continues the cry with, "I saw George Jacobs with the
Devil! I saw Goody Howe with the Devil!" From here on, the
accusations grow and grow until the jails overflow with
accused witches. 

It must have given the girls an incredible sense of power
when the whole town of Salem listened to their words and
believed each and every accusation. After all, children
were to be seen and not heard in Puritan society, and the
newfound attention was probably overwhelming. In Act Three
of The Crucible, the girls were called before the judges to
defend themselves against the claims that they were only
acting. To prove their innocence, Abigail led the other
girls in a chilling scene. Abby acted as if Mary Warren
sent her spirit up to the rafters and began to talk to the
spirit. "Oh Mary, this is a black art to change your shape.
No, I cannot, I cannot stop my mouth; it's God's work I
do." The other girls all stared at the rafters in horror
and began to repeat everything they heard. Finally, the
girls' hysterics caused Mary Warren to accuse John Proctor
of witchcraft. Once the scam started, it was too late to
stop, and the snowballing effect of wild accusations soon
resulted in the hanging of many innocents. 

After the wave of accusations began, grudges began to
surface in the community. Small slights were made out to be
witchcraft, and bad business deals were blamed on witchery.
Two characters in The Crucible, Giles Corey and Thomas
Putnam, argue early on about a plot of land. Corey claims
that he bought it from Goody Nurse but Putnam says he owns
it, and Goody Nurse had no right to sell it. Later, when
Putnam's daughter accuses George Jacobs of witchery, Corey
claims that Putnam only wants Jacobs' land. Giles says, "If
Jacobs hangs for a witch he forfeit up his property -
that's law! And there is none but Putnam with the coin to
buy so great a piece. This man is killing his neighbors for
their land!" Others also had hidden motives for accusing
their neighbors. Once the accusations began, everyone had a
reason to accuse someone else which is why the hangings got
so out of hand. 

The wave of accusations can be compared to mass hysteria,
in which the people involved are so caught up that they
start having delusions that their neighbors want to hurt
them. One of the main accusers, Abigail Williams, had an
ulterior motive for accusing Elizabeth Proctor. In The
Crucible, Abigail believed that if she got rid of Goody
Proctor, then John Proctor, her husband, would turn to
Abby. John Proctor had an affair with Abigail, but for him
it was just lust, while Abigail believed it to be true
love. She told John that he loves her, and once she
destroys Elizabeth, they will be free to love one another.
John is horrified at this, but can do nothing to convince
Abigail that he is not in love with her. Because of
Abigail's twisted plot to secure John for herself,
Elizabeth is arrested. It is the hidden motives behind the
accusations that fan the flames of the Salem witch trials. 

To get the complete picture of the causes behind the witch
trials, you must look at the physical reasons as well. Two
historians, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, drew a map
of Salem Village and plotted the accusers, the defendants,
and the accused witches. An interesting picture arose when
a line was drawn dividing the town into east and west. It
became clear that nearly all the accusers lived on the west
side, and almost all the defenders and accused witches
lived on the east side. To determine the cause of the
east-west split, the historians examined many disputes,
chief among them being the choice of ministers. Once Salem
Village was granted the right to have its own meeting
house, quarrels arose over who would preach in the pulpit.
There were four ministers between the time period of when
the meeting house was built and the end of the witch
trials. The arguments over ministers soon became a power
struggle. There were two factions that arose during this
dispute, and it was noted that one group supported two
ministers while the other group supported the other two
ministers. Each group wanted to prove its influence by
choosing a minister and making him the spiritual guide of
Salem Village. The two groups were found to coincide
closely with the east-west division. When the economical
divisions of the village were examined, it was found that
in general the western citizens of Salem Village lived an
agrarian lifestyle and were hard-pressed economically. The
land on the western side was well-suited to farming and
grazing. By contrast, the villagers on the east side were
mainly merchants and lived fairly opulently. The road to
Salem Town traveled through the east side of Salem Village.
Many innkeepers and tavern owners lived on this road and
made a good profit off all the travelers. Tension often
arose between the two groups because of their vastly
different lifestyles. 

It is not difficult to see why a catastrophe such as the
Salem witch trials occurred. Once one accusation was made,
it was easy to release all the buried suspicions and hatred
into a wave of madness. " The Crucible" simplifies the
cause to make for a better story, but in reality the
reasons for the witch craft accusations were much more
complex. The reasons behind the accusations would result in
many more quarrels over the years, but none as interesting
or as horrifying as the Salem witch trials. In such a
straight-laced Puritan society, there lived many people
with hidden darkness in their hearts, and the Salem witch
trials exposed and magnified the consequences of those
black desires. 


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