Crucible

And Salem Witch Trials
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 the girls’ suppressed childhood.

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 witch, 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.

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It must have given them 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 as bewitched; therefore it is why the hangings got so out of hand.

The wave of accusations can be likened to mass hysteria, in which the people
involved are so caught up that they start having delusions of neighbors out to
do them harm. 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 eastside. 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
meetinghouse, quarrels arose over who would preach in the pulpit. There were
four ministers between the time period of when the meetinghouse 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 to 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.


English Essays