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.
Reports & Essays categories