How does the idea of "Breaking Charity" relate to the themes in The Crucible?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The concept of breaking of charity is something that Miller himself found fascinating in the drama of Salem.  While many ascribe Miller's motives as a response to McCarthyism, there is a revelation that Miller was equally, if not more, fascinated with the idea of individuals in Salem simply breaking charity with one another.  When reflecting upon the material for the play, Miller writes as much:

... the most common experience of humanity, the shifts of interests that turned loving husbands and wives into stony enemies, loving parents into different supervisors or even exploiters of their children... what they called the breaking of charity with one another.

This is a topic that fascinated Miller, appealing to him on the basis that Salem was an abdication of the social contract that bound political and social society, but also of the contract that existed between human beings on the grounds of simple decency.

It is here where the theme of breaking charity relates to Miller's work.  The construction of the drama involves accusations of witchcraft.  Yet, on a larger level, it involves the rapid transformation of alliances into adversaries, friends into foes, and the utter "breaking of charity" that caused a town to devolve into madness.  The lack of trust and solidarity that exists between people when the accusations begin to fly is startling.  It is the only reason that can help explain why people reverted to what they did.  In this light, Salem was not as much about religious zeal as much as it was the quick and stunning abdication of connection between one another.  Mary Warren quickly turns on Proctor in a swift "breaking of charity."  Abigail suddenly and forcefully points the dirty end of the stick at Tituba, without warning in a setting where charity is broken off between human beings.   Parris has broken charity with Proctor and anyone else accused out of fear that people will break charity with him.  The very idea that accusations were made against anyone and everyone possible was not out of fear of witchcraft as much as it was a reflection of what happens when a social order dissolves or breaks the bonds of charity between human beings.  The idea of breaking charity is what helps to explain why the people of Salem, a town supposedly built on Christian compassion, ends up turning against one another.  It also helps to explain the timeless quality of Miller's work.  In the end, Miller renders a work that clearly articulates what happens when the breaking of charity results on a large level and the hopelessness for both individual and society that results.

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