In The Crucible by Arthur Miller, what does the author mean by his statement that "the Salem tragedy developed from a paradox"?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Miller's paradox of Salem takes two forms.  The literal meaning is that the girls in the opening of the play, Act I, are actually engaging in witchcraft.  Yet, instead of the focus being placed on the girls who were in the woods practicing the act of witches, they name others who they claim were witches.  In this act, the paradox emerges in that girls who were behaving like witches start to accuse others of it.  The town leaders begin to seize and focus upon these individuals rather than on the girls who actually began all of this.  This is paradoxical.  A more symbolic meaning of paradox can be seen in Salem, itself.  A town that was conceived as a theocratic regime in the hopes of maintaining unity and purity turned out to be the opposite throughout the course of the trials.  A town that prided itself on moral notions of the good and spirituality that would bring individuals together in the ultimate representation of community turned out to be self interested, driven to advance personalized and political agendas.  A community that professed to bring others into one unit could only exclude and isolate others.  This would also represent a paradox.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Miller suggests several contradictions that existed and--to some extent--still exist today in American society.  First, the Puritans who make up Salem Village came to the New World to separate themselves from the religious persecution and controversy that they had endured in England, but ironically, during the witch trials, the Puritan and town leaders go after people who disagree with certain elements of the church or minister.  The persecuted become the persecutors.

Secondly, Miller finds it paradoxical that people such as John Proctor who view themselves as impure are the few to speak against the injustice of the "pure" or "religious" court.

Finally, in relation to McCarthyism or modern witch hunts, Miller uses the contradictions of Salem to show that often the fear that fuels many witch hunts is directed at the wrong people. Just as Congress should have been fearful of Senator McCarthy in the 1950s, the people of Salem should have been more fearful of the seemingly "innocent" girls and religious judges and ministers than of those who were accused of wrongdoing.