The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller in 1953, is a play focusing on the topic of the Salem witch of the last decade of the 1600s in Massachusetts. Critics have identified Miller’s play as an allegory for the politics of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (McCarthyism) involved in the governmental persecution of citizens accused of being communists. In the play, Salem citizens are enthralled by mass hysteria and the fear of witchcraft. While the entire tragedy of the witch-hunt has been linked to the characters of Abigail Williams and John Proctor, the author also suggests that others may also be called responsible. Based on the analysis of the play, it is hypothesized that Reverend Samuel Parris and the Putnams should also be considered culpable for the tragedy.
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Reverend Samual Parris is a character to blame for the persecution of alleged witches and the overall hysteria not only because of his unpleasant character but also because of the unfair treatment of his daughter Betty. Miller describes the character of Parris not in a favorable light: “he cut a villainous path, and there is very little good to be said for him” (1). The Reverend’s personal qualities reflect his paranoia and obsession with being obeyed: “In meetings, he felt insulted if someone rose to shut the door without first asking his permission” (Miller 1). At the beginning of the play, Parris finds Betty and her cousin Abigail dancing naked in the forest under Tituba’s guidance. Without trying to resolve the situation civilly, he thinks that the girls were bewitched. Also, it is later revealed that Parris does not like children and is not a compassionate father: “a widower with no interest in children […] he regarded them as young adults”, which explains why he is so quick to label the girls as witches and start the hysteria that captured the entire town (Miller 1).
The Putnams, both Ann and Thomas, can also be blamed for the witch-hunt because from the very beginning of the play, the two of them are eager to blame the deaths of their seven children on witches. It is clear that the Putnams are wealthy and powerful but have their own struggles. For example, Ann Putnam is described as a “twisted soul of forty-five, a death-ridden woman, haunted by dreams” (Miller 9). Thomas is a “well-to-do, hard-handed landowner, near fifty” (Miller 10). Their behavior is irrational and is somewhat attention-seeking: they repeat their suspicions about witches’ actions over and over, spread the rumors around Salem, and use their daughter as a tool to push their agenda. Thomas’s character is especially important to consider because he used the accusations of witchcraft to feed his selfish and greedy desires. For instance, they manipulate their remaining daughter, Ruth, into accusing Martha Corey of witchcraft to obtain her husband’s land and get richer.
In The Crucible, many characters can be blamed for the witchcraft-associated hysteria. However, Reverend Parris and the Putnams stand out as people who followed their egoistic nature and used hysteria for their personal gains. The Putnams’ credibility should have never been trusted because they have used the deaths of their children to push their agenda by stating that it was the magical force that made babies “wither in their arms the very night of their birth” (Miller 12). The family goes as far as blaming their midwife, Rebecca, for the loss of children. Ann is particularly resentful because Rebecca has many healthy children. Reverend Parris is also the one to bear the blame because, similar to the Putnams, he uses witchcraft as a narrative to pursue his selfish and greedy gains. For example, he is extremely concerned about the public not linking him to witcraft because he could lose his position as a minister. Later in the play, when Parris testifies in court, he denies seeing girls dancing naked in the forest despite confronting his niece, Abigail, about it.
While the blame for the mass witchcraft hysteria can be linked to Parris and the Putnams, Abigail is the real villain in The Crucible because she does nothing to stop the witchcraft craze as it started. She is initially among the girls dancing in the forest with Tituba because she wanted to use the power of spirits to kill Elizabeth Proctor to be with her husband. Because of the jealousy and the desire to eliminate her competition, Abigail is eager to do anything to get her closer to John Proctor. She convinces other girls to go to the woods, but when they are caught, she realizes that she should blame someone else for avoiding being persecuted and killed. Abigail conveniently accuses Elizabeth along with several others and uses the gullibility of Salem citizens.
To conclude, the Salem witch-hunt described in The Crucible is rooted in the human qualities of greed, jealousy, and manipulation. All the characters discussed above played a role in the deaths of innocent people because of their pursuit of personal agendas instead of being diligent members of society. While Parris was terrified for his reputation, the Putnams wanted to get richer by using the overall chaos that captured the town.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. Heinemann, 1992.