How does Arthur Miller show in ‘The Crucible’ that Salem society has the capacity for what started as just ‘dancin’ in the woods’ to end with the deaths of innocent people? The Salem society shown in the play is a theocratic one, governed by religious principles. The whole town is virtually run by intense Christian beliefs and the Bible, yet there are certain individuals living in this society that focus more on their own personal intentions and beliefs.
Even before the ‘dancin’ in the woods occurred, greed and conflict was evident with the people of Salem as Rebecca Nurse states in act one: ‘This will set us all to arguin’ again in the society… ‘ This clearly shows that there has been conflict before in the society as a result of people’s self interests. The society is also run unofficially by fear of the unknown, namely the devil and his evil ways. The people of the town use this fear of the unknown as an alternative to something that cannot be explained.
The fear of the unknown is very strong throughout the play, however there are points where it seems that some characters question that the devil actually exists at all, and are persecuted for their actions. This shows us that fearing the unknown was expected in the society, and it was wrong not to. This fear of the unknown in Salem shows that the town definitely contained the capacity to turn ‘devilish dancin’ into something more serious than anyone could have predicted. The ‘dancin’ that was done in the woods may have been ‘… just sport’ for some girls as Abigail states, but others clearly had different motives.
Ruth Putnam had been sent to the spiritual meeting by her mother, Goody Putnam, to communicate with the dead, which she believed would provide the answers to why her previous seven children had died of ‘mysterious purposes’. In modern times there would have been a rational explanation for the deaths, yet in seventeenth century Salem, the Bible and religion would be consulted for answers. The pure existence of Ruth at the meeting due to her mother’s orders is clearly an ‘un-Christian’ act, and it shows that people’s trust and belief in the church was fading as they turned to other spiritual beings for explanations.
The clear irony of Goody Putnam’s actions is shown later on in the play when her husband, Thomas Putnam becomes a driving force in the persecution of the dancing that Goody herself encouraged. Abigail Williams attended the dancing with a clear motive, to cast evil spirits on Elizabeth Proctor, wife of John Proctor. This is not evident at the beginning of the play but it comes into the audience’s view when the girls finally confess to dealing with the devil. The confession happening as they know that they will not be punished for admitting to dealing with the devil.
The girls witnessed this when Tituba confesses, and Reverend Hale quotes: ‘ You have confessed yourself to witchcraft, and that speaks a wish to come to heaven’s side. ‘ As the play moves on, the girls gain an extremely unusual level of power in the society for a group of young un-married Christian girls. They can destroy the lives of others with one single accusation, no matter how powerful or wealthy the person may be. Abigail is portrayed by Arthur Miller from the start of the play as the ‘villain’ of the play.
She undergoes a relationship with John Proctor that is clearly not normal in a theocracy like Salem. She is shown to be the leader of the group of girls and they follow on to anything that Abigail says or does. Abigail’s lust for John Proctor may be due to a lust for love in Abigail’s mind. Indians tragically killed her parents when she was young, so she may be escalating the whole situation to attract attention, the attention perhaps being after she was rejected by Proctor. The deaths show us that Salem had taken a strict social stance due to the threats from the outside world.
This would mean that the town would be united with all of its people, but the irony in this is that they are not, and that there is hate and distrust throughout the society. This hate and lack of trust in the town will build up to a point where it cannot be contained anymore and a trigger such as Abigail will release the pressure and cause the fatal events that will hang over the town like a dark cloud for years to come. Abigail may seem to be psychologically unstable to a twentieth century audience, but in seventeenth century Salem, her psychological state may be a proving factor that she has been ‘dealing with the devil’.
She also contains the ability to manipulate the minds of others, as she does so often in the court by merely dealing with the devil. An example of this is in act three when, in court a barrage of accusations were placed upon her, she washed them all away by pretending to see a ‘yellow bird’. She may also be on a quest for power and authority, as a young, orphaned girl would have no power in the society. Her plan works in two ways; she gains her authority, but is feared by some people, as her ability to deal with the devil was also feared.
Abigail is the main reason of how Salem has the capacity to kill innocent people as she was the leader of the group and her psychological state and lust for love took control of the group and forced them to accuse so many innocent people. The people of Salem are mixed within their states of mind. Thomas Putnam, for instance is portrayed as a man of greed and lust for authority through land ownership. He is on a never-ending quest for gaining more acres of land, as people were judged by the amount of land they owned in the society.
He uses the witch trials as a means of gaining more land by going against the accused persons whom he wishes to gain land from. This is shown when Giles Corey says that Putnam is ‘… killing his neighbours for land’. His greed is shown here, as it is clear that he in striving to gain more land. This greed turns the audience against him, and provides sympathy to the accused persons. He has several conflicts with John Proctor throughout the play, mainly due to land ownership. This intensifies the audience’s criticism for Putnam.
From the beginning of the play, Reverend Parris is shown as a man who is more interested in his own reputation than his actual belief in the truth. When he discovers that his niece, Abigail, had been dancing in the woods he states that: ‘ … if you trafficked with spirits in the forest, I must know it now, for surely my enemies will, and they will ruin me with it. ‘ He states that he has enemies that try to overthrow him in the society, which is clearly unusual for a man with such a high position in the society.
It is also ironic how a prominent Christian figure such as Parris acts in such an ‘un-Christian’ way when the trials actually take place. This shows that the town is full of distrust and hate, no matter who the person may be. Through the play, Parris is reluctant to speak the truth, and uses every opportunity to convict an accused individual, to protect his reputation. The greed and lust for superiority that Parris and Putnam show, is an indicator of how the Salem society can so easily condemn innocent people not necessarily for witchcraft, but for other more personal reasons as well.