There is a large emphasis on purity in
the lives of the people of Salem. There is a lot of imagery of darkness and dirt representing
sin and evil. Reverend Parris for example, questions his niece Abigail's purity by saying; Your
name in the town-it is entirely white, is it not? She argues that her name is not soiled. The
people of Salem are obsessed with preserving the perceived cleanliness of their souls.
Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, is based upon actual events in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.
Some facts, as Miller admits in the introduction, have been changed. Abigail, for instance was
only 11 at the time of the trials and John Proctor was 60. An affair between the two of them is
a somewhat far-fetched idea. Betty Parris, who was six at the time, became strangely ill sometime
after February, 1692. She complained of a fever and crashed about the house in pain. There
is much speculation about the actual cause of her symptoms. A man named Cotton Mather had recently
published a book called Memorable Providences describing the suspected witchcraft of a woman in Boston.
Betty's behavior in many ways mirrored that described in the book. Closer attention was paid when
Abigail Williams, eleven-year-old Ann Putnam Jr. (called Ruth in Miller's play), seventeen-year-old
Mercy Lewis and Mary Walcott (Susanna) began to exhibit similar symptoms. When Dr. Griggs could
not cure the children, he naturally suggested that some supernatural force must be at work. An
increasingly larger group, which also grew to include adults, began to complain of afflictions.
Sometime after February 25, Betty and Abigail named their tormentors with such consistent stories that
it seems that the girls must have been working their stories out together. The first people to
be accused of witchcraft (Tituba, Sarah Osborn, and Sarah Good) were outsiders. It was easy for
the pious townspeople to believe that those who differed from them were influenced by the devil.
The antics in the court proceedings went much as Miller portrayed. Displays of the victims apparent
affliction when in the presence of the witch were considered valid evidence of guilt. The fervor
may have died down at that point but Tituba, who had been adamantly denying involvement in witchcraft,
proclaimed that she had been approached by a tall man who asked her to sign his book. She stated
that she and four others, including Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn, were in fact witches and flew through
the air on poles. At this point, the witch hunting took off. Even the four-year old daughter
of Sarah Good, Dorcas, was accused and jailed. Bridget Bishop, the sixty-year-old owner of a house
of ill repute was the first brought to trial. She was the most likely of the prisoners to be convicted
considering her deviant behavior (in terms of the standards at the time). After her conviction however,
one of the judges, Saltonstall, resigned in disgust. (It is interesting to know that the author
Nathaniel Hawthorne was a descendant of Judge Hathorne. The w was added to distinguish future
generations from the shameful actions of the Salem judge.) Bridget Bishop was hanged on June 10, 1692.
As time went on the accused were not as disreputable as Bishop. Rebecca Nurse was actually found
not guilty but Chief Justice Stoughton urged the jury to reconsider and she was condemned. John
Proctor was actually a tavern owner (not a farmer as in the play) and was openly critical of the witch-hunts.
He was an example of what would happen to those who spoke out against the proceedings. Proctor
was hanged August 19, 1692. Doubt in the validity of the accusations finally began when the Ex-Reverend
George Burroughs was hung. He recited the Lord's Prayer perfectly, which was thought impossible
for one in league with the Devil. Cotton Mather, the author, was in attendance that day and it
was his intervention that brought the people back to supporting the trials. After all, an innocent
person would not be convicted. Giles Corey was as the play reports, pressed to death for refusing
to enter a plea to the charge of witchcraft against him. His wife Martha was hanged three days
later with 7 other convicted witches. Her group would be the last to die. Salem was regaining
its senses. Reverend John Hale and the villagers found it increasingly harder to believe that
so many respectable people would turn to the Devil all at once. Increase Mather, the father of
Cotton, began to argue against the use of spectral evidence (Cotton had been a strong force in allowing
its use). Without spectral evidence, most of the remaining trials ended in acquittals. Reverend
Parris was replaced though he tried to blame those around him. Many of those involved also tried to
place the blame on others. Those still in prison were released and in later years, the families
of the executed were compensated. The people of Salem still remember the terrible events of their
history. The Salem Witch Museum is an integral part of the town as is a stone wall with jutting
slabs bearing the names of the dead.
When John Proctor is asked to recall his Ten Commandments (a witch could not), he forgets adultery just
as he literally forgot when he chose to have an affair with Abigail.
Proctor calls Hale Pontius Pilate. Hale sees the
injustice being done yet he is willing to go along with the will of the people (the court) in order
to protect himself as the biblical figure allowed the crucifixion of Jesus. Hale is not acting
in a just manner. By the time he changes his ways, it is too late for him to have any influence.
If Hale is Pontius Pilate, the innocent victims of the tragedy are like Jesus. Christians believe
that Jesus died to save future generations. Those who learn from the deaths in Salem are also
saved. They are saved from repeating history and suffering another great loss of life.