And Salem Witch TrialsIn The Crucible by Arthur Miller, the madness of the Salem WitchTrials is explored in great detail. There are many theories as to why the witchtrials came about, the most popular of which the girls’ suppressed childhood.
However, there were other factors as well, such as Abigail Williams’ affair withJohn Proctor, the secret grudges that neighbors held against each other, and thephysical and economic differences between the citizens of Salem Village. From ahistorical viewpoint, it is known that young girls in colonial Massachusettswere given little or no freedom to act like children.
They were expected to walkstraight, arms by their sides, eyes slightly downcast, and their mouths were tobe shut unless otherwise asked to speak. It is not surprising that the girlswould find this type of lifestyle very constricting. To rebel against it, theyplayed pranks, such as dancing in the woods, listening to slaves’ magic storiesand pretending that other villagers were bewitching them. The Crucible startsafter the girls in the village have been caught dancing in the woods.
As one ofthem falls sick, rumors start to fly that there is witchcraft going on in thewoods, 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 Abigailstarts accusing others of practicing witchcraft. The other girls all join in sothat the blame will not be placed on them. In The Crucible, Abigail starts theaccusations by saying, “I go back to Jesus; I kiss his hand. I saw SarahGood with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishopwith the Devil!” Another girl, Betty, continues the cry with, “I sawGeorge Jacobs with the Devil! I saw Goody Howe with the Devil!” From hereon, the accusations grow and grow until the jails overflow with accused witches.
It must have given them an incredible sense of power when the whole town ofSalem 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 newfoundattention was probably overwhelming. In Act Three of The Crucible, the girlswere called before the judges to defend themselves against the claims that theywere only acting. To prove their innocence, Abigail led the other girls in achilling scene. Abby acted as if Mary Warren sent her spirit up to the raftersand began to talk to the spirit. “Oh Mary, this is a black art to changeyour 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 repeateverything they heard. Finally, the girls’ hysterics caused Mary Warren toaccuse John Proctor of witchcraft. Once the scam started, it was too late tostop, and the snowballing effect of wild accusations soon resulted in thehanging of many innocents. After the wave of accusations began, grudges began tosurface in the community. Small slights were made out to be witchcraft, and badbusiness deals were blamed on witchery. Two characters in The Crucible, GilesCorey and Thomas Putnam, argue early on about a plot of land. Corey claims thathe bought it from Goody Nurse but Putnam says he owns it, and Goody Nurse had noright to sell it. Later, when Putnam’s daughter accuses George Jacobs ofwitchery, Corey claims that Putnam only wants Jacobs’ land. Giles says, “IfJacobs hangs for a witch he forfeit up his property – that’s law! And there isnone but Putnam with the coin to buy so great a piece. This man is killing hisneighbors for their land!” Others also had hidden motives for accusingtheir neighbors. Once the accusations began, everyone had a reason to accusesomeone 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 peopleinvolved are so caught up that they start having delusions of neighbors out todo them harm. One of the main accusers, Abigail Williams, had an ulterior motivefor accusing Elizabeth Proctor. In The Crucible, Abigail believed that if shegot 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, whileAbigail believed it to be true love. She told John that he loves her, and onceshe destroys Elizabeth, they will be free to love one another. John is horrifiedat 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 isarrested. It is the hidden motives behind the accusations that fan the flames ofthe Salem Witch Trials. To get the complete picture of the causes behind thewitch 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 theaccusers, the defendants, and the accused witches. An interesting picture arosewhen a line was drawn dividing the town into east and west. It became clear thatnearly all the accusers lived on the west side, and almost all the defenders andaccused witches lived on the eastside. To determine the cause of the east-westsplit, the historians examined many disputes, chief among them being the choiceof ministers. Once Salem Village was granted the right to have its ownmeetinghouse, quarrels arose over who would preach in the pulpit. There werefour ministers between the time period of when the meetinghouse was built andthe end of the witch trials. The arguments over ministers soon became a powerstruggle. There were two factions that arose during this dispute, and it wasnoted that one group supported two ministers while the other group supported theother two ministers. Each group wanted to prove its influence by choosing aminister and making him the spiritual guide to Salem Village. The two groupswere found to coincide closely with the east-west division. When the economicaldivisions of the village were examined, it was found that in general the westerncitizens of Salem Village lived an agrarian lifestyle and were hard-pressedeconomically. The land on the western side was well suited to farming andgrazing. By contrast, the villagers on the east side were mainly merchants andlived fairly opulently. The road to Salem Town traveled through the east side ofSalem Village. Many innkeepers and tavern owners lived on this road and made agood profit off all the travelers. Tension often arose between the two groupsbecause of their vastly different lifestyles. It is not difficult to see why acatastrophe such as the Salem Witch Trials occurred. Once one accusation wasmade, it was easy to release all the buried suspicions and hatred into a wave ofmadness. The Crucible simplifies the cause to make for a better story, but inreality the reasons for the witch craft accusations were much more complex. Thereasons behind the accusations would result in many more quarrels over theyears, but none as interesting or as horrifying as the Salem Witch Trials. Insuch a straight-laced Puritan society, there lived many people with hiddendarkness in their hearts, and the Salem witch trials exposed and magnified theconsequences of those black desires.
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