In Act 1, Arthur Miller uses lengthy prose commentaries for much of his dramatic exposition. What kind of information does he reveal in these commentaries?

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appletrees's profile pic

appletrees | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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One purpose of the prose commentaries is to provide expository information about the characters (based upon what is known about them from historical documents used in Miller's research), in order to contextualize their standing and reputation in the village. Such information allows us to better understand the mindset behind the villagers' willingness to believe in witchcraft. Miller's details about what life in Salem Village was like allows for a greater understanding of the motivations behind what may seem like dishonest, mean-spirited and ruthless behavior.

For example, in the play Ann Putnam describes the deaths of her first seven children, all dead as infants, and her decision to have her living daughter Ruth ask Tituba for help contacting the dead. Ann is unbalanced by her grief and it has made her fearful and superstitious as well as angry.

We also hear Rebecca Nurse describe her own experiences as a mother and grandmother, with a rather different mindset: she does not believe in witchcraft and thinks the girls are merely acting out:

"Pray, calm yourselves. I have eleven children and I am twenty-six times a grandma, and I have seen them all through their silly seasons, and when it come on them they will run the Devil bowlegged keeping up with their mischief. I think she'll wake when she tires of it." 

The contrast of these two women and their personal experiences regarding childbirth and child-rearing creates a potentially antagonistic situation.

Neighbors also had resentments simmering because of land disputes and other matters. Miller comments upon the ways that the witchcraft accusations fueled such examples of bitterness or jealousy among neighbors:

"Long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly ex-pressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible's charitable injunctions...

Old scores could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord; suspicions and the envy of the miserable toward the happy could and did burst out in the general revenge."

bcsaund's profile pic

bcsaund | Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Arthur Miller reveals a great deal of information in his lengthy prose commentary in Act 1. Primarily he is providing the reader with information about the Puritan culture which serves as the backdrop for the Salem Witchcraft Trials. He discusses the Puritans' strict lifestyle involving work and prayer with no time for celebrations. He discusses how the Puritans needed these strict rules when they began their society for safety reasons, but now that they were more established, there was a push by some for more individual freedom. Miller states that society is constantly trying to find the balance between rules/regulations and individual freedom. Those in charge in Salem (Reverend Parris) want to hold on to their power while others (John Proctor) want more individual freedom. This causes some strife between characters that comes to the forefront during the witchcraft trials.  

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