The Crucible is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Arthur Miller’s disturbing play The Crucible, bluntly comments on the horrors of a society infiltrated with mass fear and hysteria. Written as a parallel to the late 17th century Salem witch trials in Massachusetts, Miller illustrates how conflict can tear a community apart and leave dire consequences upon its people. In 1692, Salem was a puritan society that viewed witchcraft as a taboo. When a group of young girls fell ill, each with symptoms of hallucinations and bizarre behaviour, Salem was driven to a state of panic believing that witchcraft was the culprit. A frantic search began to determine who was to blame for performing witchcraft, which lead to a series of accusations from one Salem citizen to another.
Driven by fear, the conflict worsened when the authorities began searching for the perpetrator. Miller highlights the dangers that arise when a theocracy reacts to such fear with its own extreme religious beliefs. Government officials treated several people with intimidation and coercion to confess to crimes regardless of insufficient or questionable evidence. This societal conflict developed into personal conflicts as many of these baseless accusations resulted in innocent people being incarcerated and punished with the death sentence. Ironically, in order to avoid imprisonment, many of the innocent obliged with the government’s terms and confessed to crimes they had never committed. They were then excused from sentence, as it was believed that their ‘confession’ displayed they were no longer under the influence of the devil and possessed an awareness of the sins they had committed.
The Salem situation is starkly linked to McCarthyism, a term inspired by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy during an anti-communist scare in mid 20th century. His actions effectively led thousands of Americans to be subjected to interrogation and various forms of punishment, although in many cases evidence against these Americans was less than substantial. Even those who merely hinted sympathy towards pro-communists would be treated as traitors. Much alike Salem, a picture of frenzy and paranoia lasted in America for a number of years, resulting in over a hundred peoples’ conviction.
The play highlights how a society so quickly gripped with hysteria can disintergrate – a timeless demonstration warning us of the frailties of any society.
Salem, Massachusetts from 1692 when initial accusations surfaced to the release of the convicted in 1693.
The play begins with Reverend Parris’s daughter Betty, who lies sick in bed presumably unconscious. Parris is overwhelmed with worry, waiting to hear of Betty’s diagnosis from Doctor Griggs. When Grigg’s messenger Susanna Walcott delivers the message that there are ‘no medications in [Grigg’s] books’ [pg 18] to cure her symptoms, a distressed Parris refuses to believe the suggestion that Betty’s illness may be the cause of ‘unnatural things.’ Despite his adamant denial in front of Susanna, the moment after she departs he questions his niece Abigail, about her and Betty dancing in the woods last night. Abigail plays innocent and rejects his allegations of any involvement in witchcraft. Parris inquires if Abigail’s reputation is indeed, unblemished. Abigail was under town residents, John and Elizabeth Proctor’s service as a servant for some time. However, Abigail was released due to a conflict undisclosed to the public, yet rumours are present that at church Elizabeth will no longer ‘sit so close to something soiled.’ [pg 20] Abigail’s excuse for her discharge is due to Elizabeth’s bitter hatred towards her because she won’t work like a slave. Parris interrogation of Abigail is focused on preserving his reputation rather than the forbidden actions of the young girls. He believes that ‘surely my enemies will…drive me from my pulpit’ [pg 19] if they discovered his connection with the suspected witchcraft that caused his Betty’s illness. He has asked Reverend Hale, a specialist in the field of ascertaining witchcraft, to drop by Salem and inspect for the Devil’s presence.
Talk of witchcraft infiltrating the town leads to a group of gatherers outside Parris’s home. Mrs. Putnam enters with her husband Thomas declaring that her child Ruth, like Betty is inanimate. She explains that seven of her babies would die ‘the very night of their birth’ [pg 23] and that there must be a supernatural cause. She explains that her suspicions of someone cursing her children led her to visit Tituba, Parris’s slave, who can ‘speak to the dead.’ Abigail, aware that Mrs. Putnam’s story has risen suspicions in Parris that the girls may have in fact conjured spirits the night before, confesses that Tituba and Ruth performed a summon in the woods, however avoids implicating herself. Mercy Lewis, Putnam’s servant enters and declares that Ruth gave a ‘powerful sneeze,’ [pg 24] a strong sign of life returning to her. In order to alleviate fear from the crowd downstairs, Parris leaves to begin a psalm. The Putnam’s depart to join the psalm as well.
With only Mercy present, Abigail’s innocent façade disappears, revealing that along with Tituba and Betty, both girls likewise participated in witchcraft. Another young girl, Mary Warren, who is now the new servant for the Proctor’s, enters with considerable apprehension and pleads to Abigail that they must admit to their wrongdoings. It is apparent that there were multiple girls who were a part of the ‘klatch.’ [pg 39] Abigail explains that she already confessed to Parris all their activities last night. Betty however, coincidentally springs into life screaming that Abigail didn’t divulge to Parris that she had cursed to kill Elizabeth Proctor. The room evolves into chaos, with Betty crying for her dead mother and wishing to fly. She then tearfully collapses in bed. Abigail consequently composes herself and threatens the girls not to express another word about what happened the night before or she will personally ’make [them] wish [they] had never seen the sun go down.’ [pg 27]
Proctor’s entrance to Parris’s home is coupled with disbelief when he sees Mary present. He rebukes her for disobeying his orders since he has explicitly forbidden her to leave his house while she has work to complete. Ashamed, Mary departs and Mercy soon after excuses herself, leaving Abigail alone with him.
Abigail shares with Proctor the frivolity of Betty’s sickness, ‘she took fright, is all.’ [pg 28] Devilishly, she reveals that she engaged with witchcraft in the woods. The conversation between the two unveils a past love affair, ‘you clutched my back…and sweated like a stallion.’ [pg 29] From Abigail’s now seductive and mischievous behaviour towards Proctor, it is evident she still desires his company. Tempting Proctor, Abigail states that she’s has been ‘waitin’ for [him] every night.’ [pg 28] However, he stands strong and refuses to reignite their affair since he is burdened with guilty for betraying his beloved wife.
The voices from the psalm led by Parris travel upstairs. The words, ‘going up to Jesus’ [pg 30] triggers Betty into a wild state – screaming and crying. This prompts Parris, Mercy Lewis and the Putnam’s to come rushing in. A frantic Parris orders Mercy to call for the doctor. Mrs. Putnam believes that Betty’s terror -stricken behaviour is a result of her being possessed by the supernatural, as she cannot ‘bear to hear the Lord’s’ [pg 31] name.
Rebecca Nurse enters, an elderly lady highly respected in the community. Parris turns to her for help, unsure how to aid Betty. Giles Corey, another senior neighbour drops by, interested in Betty’s supernatural ‘flying’, a rumour which has spread around town. Through her tenderness, Rebecca calms Betty merely by standing over the child. Her diagnosis for Betty and Ruth’s change in behaviour is merely due to their ‘silly seasons.’ [pg 32] Parris comments on the belief that the ‘Devil may be among us’ in the community, eliciting a response from Rebecca that Reverend Hale’s visit is unnecessary and a Doctor is quite adequate in caring for the children.
Parris’s apparent lack of judgment when deciding to call Hale provokes a dispute amongst the men regarding Parris’s ‘sixty-six pound’ [pg 34] salary. Proctor questions if it is really necessary for six pounds worth of wood be sent to Parris’s home, especially since he is the first preacher in Salem to demand so. Due to Proctor’s clear resentment towards him, Parris furiously proclaims that Proctor’s ‘followers’ [pg 35] should be told that they are not ‘Quakers.’ Proctor’s response, ‘I must find [these followers] and join it’ astounds the room.
The quarrel over money initiates another argument between Proctor and Giles. While Proctor contends his lumber is gathered on his grounds, Giles opposes his notion, asserting that his grandfather willed that land to him. Proctor laughs off Giles theory, amused that Giles grandfather declared ownership of land that ‘never belonged to him.’ [pg 36]
Hale arrives at Parris’s home carrying a heavy stack of books that will assist his investigation in seeking out the devil. Mrs. Putman begins sharing her story of the seven dead newborns to Hale. With the belief that Hale’s duty in Salem is redundant, Rebecca leaves with a ‘note of moral superiority.’ [pg 43] Giles comments on his inability to pray while his wife, Martha reads ‘strange books’ at night. He inquires to Hale why this is so since the moment Martha finishes reading and leaves their home, he can resume his prayers. Hale asserts to Giles that Martha’s behaviour is odd and he will investigate it further.
Meanwhile, Hale attempts to extract information from spiritless Betty. In order to awake her, he recites a Latin prayer; presumably from his intellectual books with no prevail. Hale turns to question Abigail about the dancing in the words. When questioned if there was a frog cooked during the dance Abigail, caught of guard deflects the blame onto Tituba, ‘she made me do it!’ [pg 45] Tituba enters with Mrs. Putnam. Hearing Abigail blame her, Tituba denies these accusations declaring that Abigail ‘beg me to conjour!’ [pg 46] The group’s reaction, ‘this women must be hanged’ assumes Tituba as the perpetrator. Tituba is subject to a wave of questions about her ‘alliance’ with the Devil. In religious spirit, Hale demands whether or not Tituba is a ‘good Christian woman.’ [pg 47] She desperately cries that she is a good woman, and confesses with submissive answers to Hale. She avows Sarah Good also accompanied the Devil. Mrs. Putnam sees ‘truth’ in this since Sarah was a midwife to her dead newborns on three occasions. Abigail also begins to surrender names of other women in Salem, realising that Tituba has saved herself from the repercussions of her sins merely by confessing. Betty likewise catches on, and Act I concludes with the girls denouncing several residents of Salem as accomplices with the Devil.
The play begins with a commentary on social values and the strong influence religious beliefs carry in the Salem community. The puritans lead an extremely conservative life as ‘nothing broke into [their] strict and somber’ daily activities. Their accordance with a strict moral code included eschewing from ‘vain enjoyment’ such as attending the theatre and celebrating Christmas, to spending their holiday time praying. They also believe that participation in witchcraft or consorting with the Devil is a dire sin. This strong adherence to Christianity resulted in the puritans having a meticulously controlled way of life, void of any involvement with the supernatural. Thus, when rumours of witchcraft surged into Salem, their stable lives were thrown into chaos since they had neither previous exposure nor experience in dealing with the conflict. Instead of using reason and sensibility, their naivety in the situation resulted in an overall reaction of fear and madness.
The puritans’ inability to handle the conflict is demonstrated through the crowd gathered at Parris’s home, in search of answers from a higher power. Blinded by their trepidation, people begin to believe unrealistic things that they would normally disregard. When the girls were ‘bewitched,’ people assumed that it was a fact because it was easier to indulge in their fears, rather than confront the truth that perhaps there was no supernatural cause. Using Betty’s bewitchment as an excuse, Mrs. Putnam fed her own fears by convincing herself that it was the supernatural that had murdered her babies. In the presence of a conflict, the people’s hysteria only helped in perpetrating the problem to the point where countless people were being accused of committing crimes.
The mass societal and religious conflict also generated many personal conflicts for the people in Salem. Reputation has a highly significant influence in the puritan’s lives. As part of a small town, where everyone hears and sees everyone else’s affairs, the slightest criticism can ruin any reputation. Threatened by his daughter’s association with the supernatural, Parris possesses a protective attitude towards his status because he believes that his enemies will use the incriminating information against him. His inner conflict stems from his history, where he ‘cut a villianious path.’ [pg 13] However, he has now gained the respect to position himself as the reverend in Salem. His apprehension is apparently more prominent than his concern for Betty, since he illustrates greater interest in interrogating Abigail about her supernatural activities in the woods. His self-preservation is motivated by his paranoia that the presence of evil is there to destroy him. Being in a position of authority, his paranoia is instilled in parishioners by leading a psalm during the fear, rather than urging calmness from the community. He is also easily convinced by Tituba’s testimony, as seen when he appeals her to confess her sins, which further escalates the conflict. His obsession with damnation helps instigate the Salem witch hunts as he believes that without a doubt, there is a supernatural existence in town.
Although challenged with identical circumstances, people often react and behave differently than others. While Parris’s encounter with conflict results in him desperately calling for Hale, Rebecca Nurse represents a respectable character who maintains her rationality during conflict. Her diagnosis of Betty in her ‘silly season’, [pg 32] meaning that the child is merely suffering from a hysterical fit rather than being bewitched ultimately proves to be true. Likewise, Proctor sees no reason why Hale should be recruited, especially since Parris failed to consult the wardens. In the identical situation where both men are faced with conflict, Parris exaggerates the frightening situation by declaring that ‘children dyin’ in the village,’ [pg 33] hence the reason for Hale’s visit. Proctor on the other hand, blatantly points out that no children have died in town and that Parris is without substantiation, blaming hell for Betty’s state.
Inner conflict is inescapable for John Proctor who is introduced as a ‘sinner…against his own vision of decent conduct.’ [pg 27] His extramarital affair with Abigail has left him burdened with guilt and shame since he has betrayed his wife, as well as himself in the process. Regardless of the fact that he has successfully hidden his indiscretion from the public, Proctor views himself as ‘a kind of fraud,’ because his moral consciousness prevents him from holding his head high in the town. Even when Abigail seductively flatters and humours Proctor, his admirable strength in maintaining his emotional and physical distance from Abigail demonstrates his determination to save his marriage with Elizabeth.
Conversely, Abigail appears to possess no sense of remorse for her part in the affair. Her disregard towards Proctor’s marriage by attempting to seduce him even after their affair has ended highlights her self-interest and lack of consideration for others. Abigail’s open hatred towards Elizabeth, ‘she is a cold, sniveling woman’ [pg 30] illustrates her attempts to manipulate Proctor by portraying herself as a victim to gain his affection. Her conniving behaviour is also used on the young girls who were also present in the woods. Much of the hysterical conflict that develops in Salem can be traced back to Abigail. Her dominance over the other girls coerces them to follow her actions, especially when she begins to denounce the women of Salem. In a town where people viewed children as being ‘thankful for being permitted to walk straight….mouths shut until bidden to speak,’ [pg 13] the girl’s deceptions were without hesitation considered to be truthful. Since Abigail is only a child, her characterisation of herself as a victim of witchcraft fools many in Salem, especially Hale who is invited to the town to seek out the Devil.
Conflict can cause people to act in a desperate manner in order to protect themselves. When criticised for being involved with witchcraft, Abigail, Tituba and Betty accuse many women in the Salem community for affiliating with the Devil. By deflecting blame onto others, this protects them from condemnation since they helped to expose others engaged with the supernatural. As seen in later parts of the play, the girls’ action in turn triggered numerous personal conflicts, for even the innocent are denounced.
Act I signifies a mass societal conflict in Salem gaining momentum due to the community’s manifestation of fear.
Eight weeks has passed since the girls’ frantic confessions. Proctor returns from the farm for dinner. His dull conversation topics with Elizabeth about food and flowers are awkward, demonstrating that their relationship still suffers from the repercussions of Proctor and Abigail’s affair seven months ago. Proctor is vexed when he learns of Mary going to Salem, yet again defying his direct orders forbidding her to go into town. He cannot understand why Elizabeth, as Mary’s employer, lacks the courage to enforce the rules of the home. She defends herself, explaining that Mary is now an ‘official of the court.’ [pg 53] In the two months, Salem has constructed a court with ‘weighty magistrates’ with the Deputy Governor of the Province at the head. Fourteen people have been incarcerated for their association with the Devil. Unlike people who insist on their innocence, those who confess their crimes to the court and denounce others in the process ironically avoid the death sentence. Abigail is now treated like a ‘saint’ during hearings. The accused are brought before Abigail and other girls, with their future sentence based on whether or not the girls break out into hysteric cries of ‘witch’. Proctor calls this ‘black mischief’ since it is evident that Abigail is manipulating the court. Elizabeth begs Proctor to visit Salem and instill some sense of reason to its people. His hesitation sparks an argument between the two. While Elizabeth believes his reaction is due to his affection for Abigail, a weary Proctor argues that he merely has no proof that Abigail is a fraud.
Their dispute halts when Mary Warren enters. Proctor, furious at her transgression threatens her with a whipping if she ever dares to leave the house again. Her docile behaviour is odd, especially when she hands Elizabeth a doll as a gift. Mary declares, ‘we must all love each other now’ [pg 56] and starts for her room. Proctor questions Mary concerning the validity of fourteen people’s sentences. Breaking down, she responds that number has now reached thirty-nine. She cries that one of those sentenced to death is Goody Osburn. When asked by the Deputy Governor to recite the Ten Commandments, Osburn was unable to express even one of the Commandments. Sarah Good was also accused but has avoided death sentence because she confessed to a compact with Lucifer. Proctor wonders how this could be true, knowing the good nature of Sarah Good. However Mary says it is so, since Sarah sent her evil spirit out and almost choked the people of the court to death.
Proctor, still irate towards Mary, demands her obedience in the household. Mary retaliates, revealing that she saved Elizabeth’s life in court. Her defense for Elizabeth, saying that she ‘never see no sign [Elizabeth] ever sent [her] spirit out’ [pg 59] prevented Elizabeth from incarceration. This revelation shocks the Proctors. Mary exhausted and ‘dissatisfied’ heads to her room.
Elizabeth deduces that the emergence of her name in court is the work of Abigail who ‘wants me dead’ so she can become Proctor’s wife. Elizabeth questions why Proctor has never shown Abigail some form of contempt in order to discourage her desires for him. Proctor defends himself, contending that he shouldn’t need to if Elizabeth were to trust him.
Suddenly, they realize that Hale is at the doorway. Unlike the first impressions of a headstrong and confident man, eight weeks later Hale’s stance has changed to ‘deference’ and ‘even guilt.’ [pg 61] Hale explains to the couple that his appearance is not on behalf of the court but of his own accord. He feels this is necessary because he is new to the town, and wishes to familiarise himself with its people. Proctor has a damaged record for the courts since he has been absent from church, ploughed on Sundays and has one child that is yet to be baptised. In an attempt to gain understanding of Proctor’s devotion to Christianity, Hale asks him to recite the Ten Commandments. Although nervous and hesitantly, Proctor pronounces nine of ten. Elizabeth helps him with the tenth commandment, ‘thou shalt not commit adultery.’ [pg 64] Aware that he has failed to establish a positive impression to Hale, Proctor asserts that ‘there be no love for Satan in this house.’ [pg 65] Hale prepares to leave, and due to Elizabeth’s appeals, Proctor reveals that Abigail confided in him that the girls participated in witchcraft one night in the woods. Hale, shocked at Proctor’s words but less surprised at this possibility, asks Proctor to testify in court. Proctor agrees.
Giles Corey and Francis Nurse appear announcing that both of their wives have been taken. Francis reveals that Rebecca’s sentence was due to claims of a ‘supernatural murder of Goody Putnam’s babies.’ [pg 67] Giles’s wife, Martha was sentence due to Walcott’s charge against her that he was unable to keep his newly bought pig alive due to her supernatural influences.
Ezekiel Cheever and Marshal Herrick arrive on behalf of the court with a warrant to arrest Elizabeth. The charge came from Abigail, who had two needles struck deep into her stomach. Cheever asks if Elizabeth owns any poppets, and Elizabeth brings over the poppet Mary sewed her. Cheever draws a long needle from the poppet and concludes that Elizabeth’s spirit must have stabbed Abigail. Due to this outrageous accusation Proctor demands that Mary is bought down to prove his wife innocent. Mary confesses that the poppet was a gift to Elizabeth, and that Susanna Walcott and Abigail are witnesses since she sewed it in court. Proctor rips the warrant, furiously refusing to let his wife be taken away. Herrick explains that there is no other alternative as he is bound by law. There are nine men waiting outside to arrest her. Elizabeth yielding to their requests walks out the door with her head held high. Proctor turns his anger on Hale, disgusted that his cowardice towards the court is allowing many innocent people being imprisoned. Proctor orders everyone out of his home, leaving only Mary. Proctor peremptorily insists that Mary comes with him to court in order to tell the truth. Mary cries that she cannot do so, since Abigail threatened that if she did, Proctor would be charged with lechery. The act ends with Proctor hopeless against the truth, which is ‘naked now.’ [pg 75]
Proctor and Elizabeth’s relationship is clearly strained. The uncomfortable small talk between husband and wife highlights how both are conflicted towards one another. Proctor’s guilty conscience drives him to behave carefully around Elizabeth. He attempts to please her by commenting on her good cooking skills. He also refrains from ‘full condemnation’ [pg 53] of her when he learns that Mary Warren has yet again returned to Salem under her watch. Meanwhile, Elizbaeth has developed a sense of coldness towards her husband. When he kisses her, she merely ‘receives it’, [pg 52] unable to demonstrate any affection. Her suspicions of Proctor still longing for Abigail appear to be omnipresent since she has reached the point where ‘she… has lost all faith in him.’ [pg 54] In what would normally be a minor mistake, a lengthy feud is sparked between the two when Proctor mentions that he and Abigail were in a room alone, and not with a crowd as stated earlier. Through their retorts to one another, it is clear that an argument is the only avenue through which they are able to express their true emotions and thoughts. Although both endeavour to amend their relationship, their suffering prevents them from sealing their gulf of separation.
Conflict can often change a person’s perspective; such is the case with Hale. His entrance depicts a ‘deferent’ [pg 61] man, which is starkly different from the proud and pompous man first introduced to the play. Although regarded as a specialist in the field of uncovering the supernatural, Hale had never encountered a witch prior to his visit to Salem. In the prose describing Hale, it is mentioned that his closest experience to a witch was a woman that appeared to be casting spells upon a young child. Nevertheless, the witch turned out to be a ‘mere pest’ [pg 37] with no supernatural powers. His assurance when meeting with Parris that ‘we cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise’ [pg 41] is a factor that drives the town to paranoia. However, his first real exposure to the insanity formed amongst the puritans when attempting to find witches causes him to change his demeanour since things are not as ‘precise’ as he believed his job to be. The action of the courts conflicts with his moral judgment, as multiple respectable women are being charged with possessing occult powers. This has widened his perspective, as seen when he visits the Proctor’s home on his behalf and not the court, in order to gain an understanding of the Proctors. Over the past eight weeks, his exposure to mayhem has ultimately altered his perspective.
In such a tightly-knitted community, where nowadays, their town which would barely be considered a village, everybody minded ‘other people’s business.’ [pg 14] Yet due to their conservative nature, people acted politely and respectfully towards one another. This lead to years of growing jealously and personal grudges buried and kept quiet amongst the people in Salem. Therefore, when the supernatural conflict spread throughout town, people’s resentment for others also surfaced since the people were looking for someone to blame. People began to accuse those they despised so that they would achieve personal revenge. Walcott’s charge against Martha Corey is evidently powered with malevolence. Due to his inability to obtain his money back when a pig, which he bought from Martha, had died, his obtains vengeance by declaring that she used her supernatural powers to kill the pig. Rebecca Nurse’s incarceration also highlights the absurdity the Putnam’s claims since she is ‘the very brick and mortar of the church.’ Many of the people in Salem use to assert their own personal attacks upon others. This fuels the hysteria in Salem even further, and only the people of Salem can be blamed.
At the Salem meeting house, which is used as the General Court, Martha Corey pleads her innocence to Judge Hathorne. Giles interrupts the prosecution exclaiming that Thomas Putnam is accusing anyone who has large tract of land so that he can purchase it for himself when the owner is imprisoned. Extremely displeased with Giles’s disrespect for court proceedings, Hathorne orders his arrest; Giles yells he has proof. This causes excitement and chatter in the courtroom.
Hathorne, Deputy Governor Danforth, Hale and Parris meet with Giles and Francis in the anteroom to deal with the controversy. Giles explains that he only questioned why his wife read so many books, not to insinuate her as a witch. Danforth dismisses Giles’s ‘proof’ since only ‘evidence in proper affidavit’ [pg 79] are be accepted. Francis asserts that the girls are frauds who manipulate the court, but this only offends Danforth due to his confidence in personally bringing justice to Salem by sentencing seventy-two people.
Proctor enters the anteroom with Mary who is close to fainting. Mary weakly admits that all the girls have fabricated their stories. Bewildered at this confession, Danforth warns Proctor that if he officially carries through with this allegation, it will ‘burn a hot fire’. [pg 81] Proctor is aware of this, and contends that he is here to save his innocent wife by unveiling the truth. Parris attempts to mislead Danforth into believing that Proctor’s true intentions are to ‘overthrow the court,’ and have nothing to do with justice. Cheever obliged as an official of the court, notifies Danforth that Proctor ripped the warrant for Elizabeth, and has been absent from church. Hale supports Proctor by stating that one cannot judge a man based on such details.
Danforth reveals to Proctor that Elizabeth is pregnant. He proposes that she will live to deliver her baby if Proctor drops his charges. Although this is tempting, knowing that Giles and Francis are in an identical situation as himself, he refuses the compromise. He shows Danforth a testament of ninety-one signatures attesting to the good nature of Rebecca, Martha and Elizabeth. Danforth demands that all ninety-one people be summoned, however a frustrated Francis maintains that he promised those people that their signatures would do them no harm. Danforth orders the arrest of all ninety-one people who signed the document.
Horrified at Danforth’s reaction, the men move on to their next objection. Proctor hands Danforth a document written by Giles, contending that Putnam purposely denounced George Jacobs so that he could take Jacob’s land. Along with it is a witness’s signature. Danforth orders Putnam to come out from the court. Upon questioning, Putnam bluntly denies Giles’s allegation. Danforth asks Giles for the name of the man who witnessed Putnam saying that he had been ‘given a fair gift of land.’ [pg 87] Knowing that the witness would be sent to jail, Giles refuses. Danforth orders for Giles arrest for contempt of the court. Hale protests Danforth’s actions, highlighting that people are too scared to stand up for the innocent because they will most likely be incarcerated as well. Danforth believes that is nonsense, since those people should have no fear if they are indeed, ‘uncorrupted.’ [pg 88]
Proctor presents a disposition on Mary’s behalf. On Hale’s behest, Danforth reads the document. Signed by Mary, it states that she lied in court. Parris interjects again in an attempt to undermine Proctor’s purpose, yet Danforth demands Parris’s silence and orders Cheever to summon the girls. Susanna Walcott, Mercy Lewis, Betty Parris and Abigail enter. Danforth asks Abigail whether or not she has been lying and as expected, Abigail says she has not. Proctor informs Danforth about Abigail dancing in the woods. Danforth, unaware of this fact, incredulously asks if this is true. Hale says it is, since Parris told him so the first night he arrived in Salem. Reluctantly, Parris mumbles that she did dance.
Danforth returns his attention to Mary, and once again asks her if her accusations of people choking her and causing her to faint was fabricated. A frightened Mary replies that it ‘were a pretence.’ [pg 94] Hathorne asks if she can faint now, in order to demonstrate her deception. Mary claims that she cannot, since she isn’t in the right time and place to do so. Danforth, clearly unsure of who is the manipulator, suggests to Abigail that perhaps ‘the spirits you have seen are illusion only, some deception that may cross your mind.’ [pg 96] Abigail angrily retorts that she has ‘done my duty pointing out the Devil’s people – and this is my reward?’
Suddenly, Abigail looks around and wraps her arms around herself, claiming that a cold wind has come. The other girls follow in suit, all crying that they’re freezing cold. They yell and scream at Mary to stop her spirit from harming them. Desperately, Mary cries for them to stop pretending. Proctor, disgusted at Abigail’s pretences attacks her, yelling that she is a whore. He reveals to Danforth his affair with Abigail explaining why Abigail has reason to murder his wife. Danforth, still uncertain asks Abigail if this is true. She refuses to reply and instead, tries to flee the room but is stopped by Herrick. Danforth orders to bring Elizabeth in for questioning and instructs everyone to be silent. Proctor and Abigail are told to turn their backs away from the entrance. Herrick brings Elizabeth in. Danforth asks her why she released Abigail from her service. Elizabeth, glancing at Proctor’s back is unsure of what to say. Danforth asks her whether or not Abigail and her husband had an affair. Elizabeth hesitantly denies the incident. The room evolves into chaos. Proctor yells to Elizabeth that he has revealed the truth however the damage is done. Mary starts to hysterically yell that Proctor forced her every night to sign the Devil’s document. She runs to the other girls and together, they enter a state of hysteria. Proctor, overwhelmed with anger cries that he hears Lucifer. Danforth, bewildered and disturbed, orders both Proctor and Giles to be imprisoned. Hale in the midst of the screaming, condemns the proceedings and yells that he quits the court.
Salem has reached a point where the distinction between innocent and guilty is obscure. Even those who are clearly innocent, for example Rebecca Nurse, are labeled guilty. The mass prosecutions over such a short period of time has left the citizens and even authorities of the court in a state of confusion as to who has in fact, committed an offence. Danforth, as the head of the court is expected to who possess good judgment even at the face of conflict. Ironically, his judgment is easily clouded by the hysteria encapsulating the town. Even though Abigail is an essential part of the trials, when Proctor asserts that she is a fraud who is manipulating the court to pursue her own motives, Danforth’s following interrogation of Abigail demonstrates his uncertainty of the truth. It is clear he is in a state of ambiguity since he attempts to obtain the truth from Proctor, Abigail and Mary. This state of doubt only perpetrates the conflict further, since denial and revile is the only form of protection under Salem’s theocracy.
Contrastingly, Hale’s growing coherence propels him to aid those suffering from the pain and loss they have endured during the trials. When Danforth dismisses Giles’s testimony, Hale objects in an attempt to explain why Giles refuses to name his informant. Although snubbed by Danforth, Hale later insists that Danforth listen to Proctor. At the start of the play, Hale was quick to condemn civilians to incarceration, however he now ‘dares not take a life without there be a proof so immaculate no slightest qualm of conscience may doubt it.’ [pg 89] The new reason and clarity in his vision demonstrates how conflict has altered his perspective. When Proctor is arrested for condemning himself, ‘I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face!’, [pg 105] Out of shame of the terror he has helped to create, Hale’s animosity towards the court is evident as he quits the court.
While Hale intends to repair the damage he has inflicted, Abigail’s clarity drives her to exploit the town. Her unscrupulous construction of Mary’s supernatural ‘bird’ demonstrates her ability to take advantage of people’s frenzied state; knowing that the court will believe her because she is just a child. Her cunning ability to easily convince Danforth that the girls are victims of the situation highlights her callousness towards the distress she has created throughout Salem.
During the conflict, others apart from Abigail also behave in their best interest. While there are hints that Danforth can see through his unfounded sentences, he is unwilling to acknowledge his mistake by trusting the girls. In order to maintain authority, Danforth continues with his barbaric court proceedings since he recognizes that admitting a failure on behalf of the court will cause a substantial backlash. His desperation in protecting the court and himself is shown when he questions Proctor on his religious devotion in order to find some excuse to dismiss Proctor’s objection to court proceedings. Parris likewise, is still concerned about his reputation in Salem amidst the conflict. His attempts to undermine Proctor’s evidence demonstrate his interest in defending the theocracy.