The Crucible - Witch Trials

In The Crucible by Arthur Miller, the madness of the Salem witch
trials is explored in great detail. There are many theories as to why
the witch trials came about, the most popular of which is the girls'
suppressed childhoods. However, there were other factors as well, such
as Abigail Williams' affair with John Proctor, the secret grudges that
neighbors held against each other, and the physical and economic
differences between the citizens of Salem Village. From a historical
viewpoint, it is known that young girls in colonial Massachusetts were
given little or no freedom to act like children. They were expected to
walk straight, arms by their sides, eyes slightly downcast, and their
mouths were to be shut unless otherwise asked to speak. It is not
surprising that the girls would find this type of lifestyle very
constricting. To rebel against it, they played pranks, such as dancing
in the woods, listening to slaves' magic stories and pretending that
other villagers were bewitching them. The Crucible starts after the
girls in the village have been caught dancing in the woods. As one of
them falls sick, rumors start to fly that there is witchcraft going on
in the woods, and that the sick girl is bewitched. Once the girls talk
to each other, they become more and more frightened of being accused
as witches, so Abigail starts accusing others of practicing
witchcraft. The other girls all join in so that the blame will not be
placed on them. In The Crucible, Abigail starts the accusations by
saying, "I go back to Jesus; I kiss his hand. I saw Sarah Good with
the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop
with the Devil!" Another girl, Betty, continues the cry with, "I saw
George Jacobs with the Devil! I saw Goody Howe with the Devil!" >From
here on, the accusations grow and grow until the jails overflow with
accused witches. It must have given them an incredible sense of power
when the whole town of Salem listened to their words and believed each
and every accusation. After all, children were to be seen and not
heard in Puritan society, and the newfound attention was probably
overwhelming. In Act Three of The Crucible, the girls were called
before the judges to defend themselves against the claims that they
were only acting. To prove their innocence, Abigail led the other
girls in a chilling scene. Abby acted as if Mary Warren sent her
spirit up to the rafters and began to talk to the spirit. "Oh Mary,
this is a black art to change your shape. No, I cannot, I cannot stop
my mouth; it's God's work I do." The other girls all stared at the
rafters in horror and began to repeat everything they heard. Finally,
the girls' hysterics caused Mary Warren to accuse John Proctor of
witchcraft. Once the scam started, it was too late to stop, and the
snowballing effect of wild accusations soon resulted in the hanging of
many innocents. After the wave of accusations began, grudges began to
surface in the community. Small slights were made out to be
witchcraft, and bad business deals were blamed on witchery. Two
characters in The Crucible, Giles Corey and Thomas Putnam, argue early
on about a plot of land. Corey claims that he bought it from Goody
Nurse but Putnam says he owns it, and Goody Nurse had no right to sell
it. Later, when Putnam's daughter accuses George Jacobs of witchery,
Corey claims that Putnam only wants Jacobs' land. Giles says, "If
Jacobs 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 neighbors for their land!" Others also had hidden
motives for accusing their neighbors. Once the accusations began,
everyone had a reason to accuse someone else which is why the hangings
got so out of hand. The wave of accusations can be likened to mass
hysteria, in which the people involved are so caught up that they
start having delusions of neighbors out to do them harm. One of the
main accusers, Abigail Williams, had an ulterior motive for accusing
Elizabeth Proctor. In The Crucible, Abigail believed that if she got
rid of Goody Proctor, then John Proctor, her husband, would turn to
Abby.