As the play opens, the Reverend Samuel Parris is questioning his niece, Abigail, about his daughter Betty’s mysterious illness. He discovered the girls dancing in the forest with Tituba, a slave from Barbados. Thomas Putnam’s daughter is similarly afflicted. Mrs. Putnam fears witchcraft, even though she had asked Tituba to conjure the spirits of her dead children.
Parris calls in a witchcraft expert, the Reverend John Hale. Despite the common sense challenges of John Proctor and others, Hale forces Tituba to confess to witchcraft. Soon the entire town is in an uproar, and hidden resentments and land disputes become the real basis for the accusations.
Proctor’s pious and unbending wife, Elizabeth, is accused of witchcraft. Mary Warren, their servant girl, is one of the accusers. Proctor makes her admit the truth: The girls had merely feigned possession by evil spirits. At the risk of disclosing his adultery with Abigail, the ringleader, Proctor forces Mary to testify.
By then Judge Danforth has arrived, who interprets any challenges or defenses as an attempt to overthrow the court’s authority. In trying to save Proctor, Elizabeth condemns them both. Because she is pregnant, she is given a stay of execution.
Hale, sickened by the realization that Proctor and Mary were telling the truth, resigns from the court and tries to persuade the convicted to confess and save their lives, even though they are innocent. Elizabeth desperately wants Proctor to live. But she finally forgives him for his adultery, admits her own faults, and leaves him free to choose. When he learns that his confession will be made public, he...
(The entire section is 680 words.)
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