Ruiz 1 Marisa Ruiz December 11, 2008 English 250 - The Crucible: American Play Subtext Analysis We can get

an idea into the nature of a society by looking at their religion. One of the most important functions that religion plays is that it helps us interpret and understand our experiences. Because our individual religious beliefs and opinions are deeply rooted in us, they have a profound influence on our actions, which in turn influences and affects society as a whole. In his dramatic play, The Crucible, Arthur Miller demonstrates a fine example of how religious ideology incited the mass hysteria that plagued the community of Salem and led to the infamous witch-hunt trials. During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, for reasons of escape or opportunity from their motherland, hundreds of English immigrants were arriving to America. They were a powerful group of English Protestants who followed an exremely rigid moral code and sought to “purify” themselves by separating from the Roman Catholic Church. They were called Puritans. In The North American Review, the article, Witchcraft is a collaboration of assorted works by fourteen authors. The article assesses the effect of their religious beliefs stating that, “This martyr proof of the efficacy of Puritanism in the character and conscious may be allowed to outweigh a great many sneers at Puritans fanaticism” (Various 230). They attempt to understand how superstition and the imagination manifest in the mind. They explain that, “The Puritan emigration to New England took place at a time when the belief of diabolic agency had been hardly called in question, much less shaken. …the measureless mystery of the unknown and conjectural …under all these influencers whatever seeds of superstition had in any way got over from the Old World would find an only too congenial soiling the new” (Various

Ruiz 2 218). It is obvious how Puritan society legitimized their witch-hunt and trial procedures by referring to their own persecution in England. As the bloody wars with Native American tribes continued, immigrants flocked the new world and colonization emerged. Their arrival transformed America into a young industrial nation. Charles W. Upham, 1802-1875, aka “the smooth, smiling, oily man of God,” was a graduate in theology at Harvard University. He held government office in the House of Representatives and served as president of the State Senate. He was ordained to ministry and officiated in Salem, where he lived out his last years. In his Lectures on Witchcraft, he examines the religion, philosophy and the imagination of Salem’s society in 1692. He identifies various reasons for the hysteria that plagued Salem, thus explains, “Their minds were startled and confounded by the prevalence of prophecies and forebodings of dark and dismal events…the evil being himself was in a special manner let loose, and permitted to descend upon them with exampled fury” (Upham 262). With violence and change at Salem’s footstep, the village people resisted the need to adjust to these economic and social changes. Their unwavering religious beliefs justified their actions in the witchcraft trials. Theocracy’s function is to keep the community together and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open its society to destruction by material or ideological enemies. Arthur Miller identifies how their religion and its rigid teachings and practices are facilitated by the tendency for religion to be in the hand of the “specialist.” Consequently, this is how the “Elites” have been able to monopolize access to the supernatural. This is how religions use the state for their own means. For example, according to the town’s physician, there was neither explanation nor cure for this unexplainable illness so, Rev. Paris calls on Rev. Hale to confirm unnatural cause for

Ruiz 3 ailments. Upon seeing Betty’s “sickness”, Mrs. Putnam explains to Reverend Paris that her daughter, Ruth is also taken by “sickness.” “Mrs. Putnam with viscous certainty: ‘I’d not call it sick; the Devil’s touch is heavier than sick. Its death y‘know, its death driving into them, forked and hoof” (Miller 13). A noticeable way that religion influenced society’s nature is the consistent belief in the supernatural, as an explanation to things unknown and the behaviors of individuals not in par with Puritan beliefs. For example, Tibuta, a slave from Barbados is seen dancing and singing in the forest with some of Salem’s children. The charges of dancing and sinful activity increased in magnitude until charges of the Devil doing his dirty work arise. The exploitation of religious ideology to accuse the “deviants” of witchcraft when different and “ungodly,” was well ingrained in the minds of Salem. Arthur Miller concluded that “…It is not hard to see how easily many and have been led to believe that the time of confusion has been brought upon them by deep and darkling forces” (Miller 6). This Religious-based theology was an essential character of the community illustrating how the community was in conflict with itself; therefore, the witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the hysteria set among the community as the balance began to shift toward greater individual freedom. We can also recognize how religions involvement in Salem serves to meet other needs as it did in the witchcraft trials. The tendency of accusations to propagate such fanaticism was commonplace in New England. In his book, Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of early New England, John Demos, Samuel Knight Proffessor of History at Yale University, investigates the early American individual’s experience and it’s affect on society during the 1600 and 1700s. He demonstates how “witch-hunting gone wild” played a detrimental part in the emergence of social change in

Ruiz 4 New England society. “The Devil was an easy way of accounting for what was beyond men’s comprehension. He was the simple and satisfactory answer to all the conundrums of Nature. And what the Devil had not time to bestow his personal attention upon, the witch was always ready to do for him” (Demos 385). Fear of change and the unknown in the Puritan’s mind was explained by evil. Because the Devil was referred to as a male, the accused women of Salem came to be known as the witches of evil doing the work of the Devil. Ironically, the accusations of witchcraft ignited paranoia in the Paris home. In fear of punishment and retribution, the children who were caught dancing with Tibuta, were suddenly overcome with some unexplainable illness. Because there was no medical explanation for the children’s behavior, Reverend Paris calls Reverend Hale to confirm the “dark forces “at play. These actions could only be explained by witchcraft. Therefore, Betty and Roth’s illness was explained as a result of the Devil’s work. Peter Hoffer, an American Historian Ph.D at Harvard University authored many books on early New England society. In his book, The Devil’s Disciples: The Makers of the Salem Witchcraft Trials, he accounts for what happened at the Salem Witchcfaft trials by investigating and analyzine the various overlapping stories. He explains that, “The (Salem) Village was the “edge” of two worlds… There witchcraft beliefs and warfare fed each other, creating the stresses and shaping the images of the crisis” (Hoffer 199). At the turn of the 1700’s, the people of Salem fell victims to a progressively changing society. Between conflicts and industrialization, the rigid ways of Salem’s culture became threatened. While the older generations resisted these changes, the younger started to become intrigued with them. As the young people began to adjust, their behaviors started to take a liberal path. Their curiosity led this group of girls to break the taboos of their culture in order to participate in the

Ruiz 5 nature of another. Because they were caught, they had to find a way in which they would not be punished, at the expense of other people’s lives. Because Salem’s people placed a large emphasis on parity in their lives, they are obsessed with preserving the cleanliness of their souls. Cultural and intellectual historian and Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Wisconson, Paul Boyer and Professor of American History Emeritus at the University of Massachussettes in Amherst both won the John H. Dunning Prize of American History Association and nominated for a book award for their work, Salem Possessed: The Social Orgins of Witchcraft. In their writings, they explore the social and economic conditions of that time and how it expediates the witch trials. They describe the individual of Salem, “From infancy, a Puritan was raised to distrust his private will, to perceive etas the “old Adam” which, above all, constituted original sin….” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 105). According to Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum they cocluded that“…the misguided energy of faith which justified conscience in making men unrelentingly cruel” (Boyer & Nissenbaum 85). As children people are raised in the confines of their culture. The people of Salem were unfaltering in their culture and ways. Upholding their beleifs, they raised their children according to strict doctrine that all things are good or evil. Cultivated by their upbringing, these children as adults, instilled these beliefs into their children. As a result, these beliefs rationalized their actions. Puritan society during that time needed an outlet to compensate for their sins. Arthur Miller brilliantly illustrated this in his play. I found that learning about the Puritan people of New England, in its historical context, I was able to evaluate the nature of their community and get a better understanding of the tragic events that led to the Salem witch-hunt trials. This is a clear demonstration how fear and hysteria mixed with an atmosphere of religious persecution

Ruiz 6 lead to extreme measures and unjust consequences. It is truly ironic how the fight against sin was more sinful than the (accusations of) sinfulness behavior. Most of all, I learned that actions deep-seated in religious ideology have different motives in order to meet specific goals.

Ruiz 7 Works Cited Demos, John P. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Hoffer, Peter Charles. The Devil's Disciples: The Makers of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Micheal Hughs, Carolyn Kroehler, James Vander Zanden. Sociology: The Core. 10 January 2002. 22 October 2008 <>. Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. New York: Penguin Books, 1976. Nissenbaum, Paul Boyer and Stephen. Salem Possessed: The Social Orgins of Witchcraft. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974. Upham, Charles W. "Lectures on Witchcraft." The New England Magazine 1.3 (1831): 262. Various. "Witchcraft." The North American Review 106.218 (1868): 213, 218, 230.

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