How are Samuel Parris, Thomas Putnam, John Hale, and Rebecca Nurse linked with the idea of authority in Act One of The Crucible?

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

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Each character features a different relationship to authority in the play.  For example, Parris and Putnam represent the desire to consolidate authority into hunting for witches and diverting from their own conditions.  Putnam advocates the witchhunt aspect of Salem's authority because it will profit his business and also detract criticism from his practices, while Parris is more interested in hunting for witches so as to not allow for reflection on his own shortcoming as a parent and community member.  Rebecca Nurse emerges as one of the voices that rises against the authority's propensity to engage in a witchhunt.  While not as antagonistic as Proctor, she is one who believes that the witchhunt approach to which authority is leaning is not necessary and that to do so would actually be a greater proliferation of sin than the presence of witches.  Hale's presence as the "outside expert" is one that possesses some level of sincerity in his role as an authority figure, but one that also reflects its ability to be corrupted by the desire to consolidate political figure.  In this light, Hale can be seen as an example of the futility of good intentions when authority is driven to malevolent ends.

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favoritethings | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Reverend Parris, as the town minister, is already in a position of authority, though he feels that his hold on this authority is tenuous, especially in light of recent events.  He tells his niece, Abigail, "I pray you feel the weight of truth upon you, for now my ministry's at stake, my ministry and perhaps your cousin's life."  He fears that when his political enemies learn about the girls' activities, they will ruin him with the information and remove him from his position of authority.

Mr. Thomas Putnam, as a wealthy landowner, possesses some authority as well, though not as much as he believes he is entitled to.  He is bitter for a number of reasons: his candidate for minister was ousted by a faction years earlier, he was the eldest son of a rich man though he inherited but little, seven of his eight children have died, and he has not garnered the respect which he feels is his due.  In other words, he believes he should be more of an authority, and so he makes himself one during the trials.  Miller says that "it is not surprising to find that so many accusations against people are in the handwriting of Thomas Putnam, or that his name is so often found as a witness corroborating the supernatural testimony, or that his daughter led the crying-out at the most opportune junctures of the trials [...]." 

Hale thinks very highly of himself and his knowledge and experience when he first arrives; he is an authority on witches and has been called to Salem as such.  When Parris remarks on the heaviness of Hale's books, Hale says, "They must be [heavy]; they are weighted with authority."  Once the trials begin, Hale's voice of reason is drowned out by other, louder voices, and his authority all but disappears when he quits the court in Act Three.

Rebecca Nurse is an authority on children, as she has never lost a child nor a grandchild in her life.  When she comes near to the whimpering Betty, her mere presence seems to calm the girl.  Rebecca correctly ascertains that "A child's spirit is like a child, you can never catch it by running after it; you must stand still, and, for love, it will soon itself come back."  She knows the girls will wake when they tire of lying down and eat when they become hungry.  She advises others to treat the children gently and patiently (though none of them do).  Her authority is ignored, as Hale's eventually is as well, and Salem is the worse for it.

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