Salem society Essay
How does Arthur Miller show that Salem society has the capacity for what started with just ‘dancin’ to end with the deaths of innocent people? During the 17th century in Salem, the church and government were very closely intertwined and the government was based on a rule of religion. At the beginning of the play, the community is still relatively new and many fears and tensions abound. This however, is unusual in a puritan society such as this one. The girls’ stories are believed because of the inherent fears present in Salem society.
Arthur Miller incorporates different types of fear into the play; these show how the society has the capacity for the events which unfold. As the community has been established in a ‘new’ land, there is a fear of isolation as they are in a new land. This fear of isolation leads to insecurities. There was also a fear of God and the unexplained. The people’s knowledge of the world at that period in time would have been very limited. Therefore, certain phenomenon that could be explained by scientific theories today, would have remained an enigma back in the 17th century.
Arthur Miller uses this fear of the unknown to create uneasiness within Salem’s community. Furthermore, he used the witch trials to give residents something to blame the unexplained fears on. Tituba led the girls to the woods and performed a ritualistic ceremony. The Puritans would have seen this as an unthinkable act and it was for this reason that Tituba was condemned and convicted of witchery. Similarly, Martha Corey did not allow Giles (her husband) to read her books. Since Giles did not know what the books contained, he feared them because he claimed that he, ‘Tried and tried and could not say my prayers.
And then she close her books and walks out of the house, and suddenly, mark this, I could pray again! ‘ It was this kind of reaction that quickly spread through the community once the witchcraft trials began. Many people in the community also feared their loss of reputation, position or power. This may have lead to tensions or bickering between members of the society. An audience will notice that throughout the play that the amount of land owned is used to justify position or power; the more land a person owned, the more respect the citizens had for that person. In act 3 Giles is found entering the courtroom while it is in session.
As an excuse for his behaviour, he gives his name and the amount of land he owns, “My name is Corey, sir, Giles Corey. I have six hundred acres, and timber in addition. ” This statement may seem rather pointless to a 21st century audience, however it must be remembered that in the 17th century such a statement, was important, because ownership of land would have represented power, wealth and respect. By contrast, an audience could conclude that a loss of land would result in a loss of reputation, position or power. Moreover, I agree with Giles’ statement that “If Jacob’s 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 neighbours for land! ” Thomas Putnam has all the motive to encourage his daughter to condemn George Jacobs because if George Jacobs was to be hung, then this would enable Thomas Putnam to buy his land, which would make him more respected in the community. So the audience would be able to see that there are tensions in the community and the witch trials have just heightened the tensions, causing a lack of trust and tensions in Salem, turning neighbour against neighbour and friend against friend.
As an audience viewing the play, this feud with neighbours would seem rather pointless and an audience may feel hostility towards Abigail and the other girls for initiating the witch trials and causing the mayhem and hysteria within Salem. I myself felt quite angered at the disruption that Abigail and the girls caused. Sadly, this is not all to different to today. Even in the modern world, power and greed still motivate people and can cause them to take horrible actions against another person(s) in order to satisfy themselves.
Take for example, the fallen regime of Saddam Hussein, motivated by greed and power, he cared little for the well being of his citizens and exploited them to get what he wanted. When this type of behaviour is contrasted with that of Thomas Putnam, the audience will clearly see a contast between Abigail and Putnam. Where Abigail exploits people to her advantage, Thomas Putnam dies to protect the innocence of his friends. The importance of religion is stressed throughout The Crucible. Arthur Miller uses the fear of the unknown as an influencing factor that caused the community to believe the girl’s stories.
The society unfortunately did not have the scientific knowledge that we possess today. As a result of this, they chose to explain unexplained phenomenon through religious or spiritual means. Therefore, the ‘dancin in the woods’ is easily accepted by the church-led puritan society as being behaviour influenced by witchcraft, despite the fact that the ‘dancin’ could well have been “just dancin”. Arthur Miller presents the people of Salem as being fearful of prosecution and punishment. Again, this can lead to insecurities within the community and ultimately a fear of the government.
People were careful of their actions for fear of the power of the church and the government. This fear of the government can be linked to Arthur Miller’s own personal life. Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible, after the McCarthy trials. During this period, many people were tried as communists and some of them, were black listed, which meant that it was harder for them to find work and earn a living. Unlike the situation in Salem, no one was executed, however his or her lives and/or reputations were destroyed.
This provides a link to the Salem Witch Trials in The Crucible, where people were convicted and/or hung without enough evidence connecting them to the crime. Arthur Miller wished to convey his opinion during these times and expressed his feelings using the Salem Witch Trials in The Crucible. When Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible, he spoke out against the unfairness of the trials without incriminating himself. When the girls were caught dancing, they all, (led by Abigail) claimed that they had been taken over by the devil (a statement easily believed by Salem’s community).
The girls lied not only to protect themselves but the reputation of their families which was considered of paramount importance to members of the community. The girls also stated that they saw other members of the town standing with the devil; “I saw Alice Barrow with the Devil! ” “I saw Goody Hawkins with the devil! ” “I saw Goody Bibber with the Devil! ” “I saw Goody Booth with the Devil! ” By shifting the blame on to other people, the girls believed that they would not be held accountable for their sins.