The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a play that takes the reader on a journey through the trials of many townspeople who are suspected of witchcraft. As the story unfolds, Reverend John Hale, an expert on witchcraft, starts to question his initial beliefs about the guilt or innocence of those accused. The events and consequences that occur throughout the trials cause Hale to reconsider his views and become convinced of the innocence of those convicted in Salem.
Reverend Parris specifically summons him to diagnose his daughter’s illness and ascertain if it is a result of witchcraft (Act I Pg. 33-35). Despite his uncertainty about the true nature of the child’s ailment, Hale harbors some doubt regarding the occurrence of witchcraft. He recognizes that the townspeople are attempting to manipulate him through deceitful motives and collective panic in order to arrive at the conclusion of witchcraft. Hale starts to detect a vulnerability in the people of Salem and endeavors to prevent unsubstantiated accusations from influencing his judgment.
Hale’s discussions with John Proctor begin to challenge his deeply held beliefs. In Act II, Hale goes from house to house in the town, warning accused women that their names have been mentioned in court. Hale eventually arrives at the Proctor home. While talking with Proctor, Hale gains a new understanding of the situation: Proctor reveals that he has no evidence to prove his claims, except his own testimony. However, he knows that the children’s illness has nothing to do with witchcraft; instead, Mr. Parris caught them playing in the woods.
They were startled and became sick. Hale asked Proctor who had told him this, and Proctor responded by saying it was Abigail Williams (Act II Pg. 68-69). At first, Hale only had evidence that supported the claims of witchcraft. However, after visiting the Proctor’s home, Proctor provides Hale with more evidence that doubts the girls’ claims, in the form of his own words. Hale expresses surprise and asks why Proctor kept this information, to which Proctor replies that he only recently realized how insane the world has become with this nonsense about witchcraft. Hale responds by calling it nonsense!
Mister, I personally examined Tituba, Sarah Good, and many others who admitted to consorting with the Devil. They confessed it. Proctor: And why wouldn’t they, if they would be hanged for denying it? There are people who would say anything to avoid being hanged, have you never considered that? Hale: I –I have indeed. And you –would you testify to this in court? “(Act II Pg. 68-69) No longer believing that Abigail and her friends were telling the truth, Hale finally realizes that those who confessed might have done it to save themselves from being hanged.
Hale is able to trust Proctor when he sees the honesty in his words, which causes him to become more open-minded about the witchcraft situation in Salem. Hale perceives the show that Abigail Williams and her crew are putting on in court. While Danforth may not recognize the lies of the children, Hale is now convinced that their claims are false and announces, “I denounce these proceedings. I quit this court” (Act IV Pg. 120). Frustrated with the mass hysteria in the town and fed up with the girls’ lies, Hale reaches his breaking point.
In all of the testimony and court appearances of the girls, he perceives a lack of truthfulness. However, Hale defends his belief in the innocence of the victims despite their forced admissions of guilt. Gradually, he becomes aware that the court, while it may seem honest and just, can actually be deceptive and manipulative in determining a person’s guilt or innocence based on its own agenda. “Danforth: You will confess yourself or you will hang” (Act IV Pg. 117).
“Danforth: Postponement means a floundering on my part” (Act IV Pg. 29). The hangings greatly impact Hale’s opinion, leading him to believe that no one in the town is bewitched. As he watches Proctor’s impending death, Hale becomes certain of Proctor’s innocence (End of Act IV). He now firmly believes that witchcraft never occurred in Salem. Hale realizes that numerous innocent lives have been lost and even Giles Corey, who was pressed to death, was innocent. Proctor’s actions have contributed to changing Hale’s belief in the existence of witchcraft in Salem.
Hale pleads with Elizabeth to ask Proctor to save him, but Elizabeth refuses, saying, “He has his goodness now. I won’t take it from him!” (Act IV Pg. 145). Proctor and Rebecca Nurse are then taken to be hanged. Hale deeply regrets not speaking up earlier and revealing the lies that caused the deaths of many. The events of the story change Hale’s mindset. From the start, Reverend John Hale tries to resist the influence of the town’s hysteria.
With the escalation of witch trials, Danforth and others are dispatched to intervene, causing Hale to lose his former position of authority in the town. As the play progresses, Hale intentionally shifts his perspective due to conversations and experiences he undergoes. Observing the trials and executions of the townspeople, Hale gradually realizes that the entire witch trial was a deception, leading to his remorse for not having made a more significant and timely impact on the “bewitched” town of Salem.