The Crucible: The Deterioration of Salem During the Witch Trials


John Hudson
Mrs. Phillips

The deterioration of Salem\'s social structure precipitated the murders
of many innocent people. Arthur Miller\'s depiction of the Salem witch trials,
The Crucible, deals with a community that starts out looking like it is tightly
knit and church loving. It turns out that once Tituba starts pointing her
finger at the witches, the community starts pointing their fingers at each
other. Hysteria and hidden agendas break down the social structure and then
everyone must protect themselves from the people that they thought were their
friends. The church, legal system and the togetherness of the community died so
that children could protect their families\' social status.
Being isolated from any other group of people with different beliefs
created a church led Puritan society that was not able to accept a lot of
change. The church was against the devil, at the same time it was against such
things as dancing and other premature acts. The reputation of the family was
very important to the members of the community. When the girls were caught
dancing in the woods, they lied to protect not just themselves but the
reputation of their families. They claimed that the devil took them over and
influenced them to dance. The girls also said that they saw members of the town
standing with the devil. A community living in a puritan society like Salem
could easily go into a chaotic state and have a difficult time dealing with
what they consider to be the largest form of evil.
Salem\'s hysteria made the community lose faith in the spiritual beliefs
that they were trying to strictly enforce. The church lost many of its
parishioners because the interest of the town was now on Abigail because people
wanted to know who was going to be named next. When the church was trying to
excommunicate John Proctor, there were not enough people at church to do it.
The people were getting misled so far as to leave a dagger stuck in the door of
their minister\'s house: “Tonight, when I open my door to leave my house--a
dagger clattered to the ground...There is danger for me.”(128) were Parris\'
exact words. With the conveyer of God fearing for his life there was no longer
anyone but Abigail to lead the community.
The justice system is designed to protect the people that it serves but
during the trials the accused witch had two choices, death or imprisonment. The
punishment of death was given to all people that pleaded not guilty; the other
punishment was to plead guilty and go to jail. John Proctor gave his view of
the justice system when he said “I like not the smell of this ‘authority\' ”(29).
“And do you know that near to four hundred are in the jails from Marblehead to
Lynn, and upon my signature?”(85) said Danforth, describing the number of
people that were in jail on charges of witchcraft. There were so many people
executed that Hale commented “there are orphans wandering from house to house;
abandoned cattle bellow on the highroads, the stink of rotting crops hangs
everywhere...”(130) Salem was turning into a ghost town. With Abigail
controlling the community, the church no longer getting the whole town to
prayer, and an unjust legal system, it is natural that the people were in a
state of total chaos.
The unexplained was caused by the devil, so some members of Salem used
the unexplained to their advantage. Mrs. Putnam told the truth when she said, “
There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!”(26)
Mrs. Putnam did her share of spreading rumors after she heard that the girls
were flying, so she asked Parris “How high did she (Abigail) fly, how high?”
(11). These rumors happened because people did not want any blame put on to
themselves. This ‘passing the buck\' made people start fighting with one another
such as Corey charging Putnam of having his daughter accuse a resident of
witchcraft in order to get Corey\'s land. Abigail used her power of getting
people to listen to her to her advantage when she charged Proctor\'s spouse with
being a witch so Abigail could live with John. This again proves that Abigail
had control of the town and the unexplained turned neighbor against neighbor.
The social breakdown in Salem was the major factor in the tragedy that
took the lives of many innocent people. There was more than one tragedy in The
Crucible. The first was the murdering of many innocent people, and the second
was