The other half of last week’s essay:
Salem, being rigidly devout, is also a town of social restraints and inhibitions. “‘There is either obedience or the church will burn like hell is burning,’” Minister Parris threatens. Novels, theater, celebration, and any ‘vain enjoyment’ are forbidden, as is the Puritan way. The narrator observes: “Evidently the time came in New England when the repressions of the order were heavier than seemed warranted by the dangers against which the order was organized.” Order is the foundation holding society together, but it also causes frustration in those who are oppressed. Abigail and the other girls, who have been inhibited by the constraints of Salem’s theocracy, are inspired to rebel by dancing and running naked in the woods. Suddenly, they are granted power that has been withheld from them previously, and the Witch Trials occur as a result.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, The Crucible showcases the Puritan importance of a moral reputation. For example, when Parris suggests that Abigail’s name may be ‘soiled’, she is outraged at the prospect. “‘My name is good in the village! I will not have it said my name is soiled! Goody Proctor is a gossiping liar!’” comes her outburst. Abigail is not the only villager concerned with her reputation. Reverend Parris, himself, worries incessantly about his notoriety, as any bad word could threaten his ministry. “‘If you trafficked with spirits in the forest, I must know it now, for surely my enemies will, and they will ruin me with it,’” he frets. It is evident that a reputation devoid of sin is of utmost importance to the villagers. To preserve their own good standing, they will not hesitate to bring down others, setting the stage for the brutality that is the Witch Trials.
This stress of maintaining a ‘clean’ name, together with an emphasis on the supernatural and strict social restraints, is at the core of Salem’s Puritan society. Ultimately, it is due to these characteristics that mass hysteria is able to take root in the town and spread like wildfire. Otherworldly explanations are sought out, social restraints encourage rebellion, and the concern of a reputation pits neighbor against neighbor. Miller’s writing reveals the forces at work in Salem, Massachusetts, and their dire consequences.