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The forest is both a location where major events in the play are said to take place, and a symbolic element. In the play's opening scene, Reverend Parris talks with Abigail about seeing several of the village girls dancing in the woods. In addition to dancing, Tituba, the slave from Barbados, taught the girls games and tricks for divining the names of their future husbands. The girls' forest activities are relatively innocent, according to Abigail, but when Betty Parris is struck with "fits" and the townsfolk believe she is "bewitched" the activities in the forest become the source of speculation and suspicion. Her father, the Reverend Parris, says he discovered Betty and Abigail "dancing like heathen in the forest." He also says "abominations are done in the forest" and refers to "someone naked running through the trees." For Parris, the forest is a place of sin and mysterious occurrences, and there is a suggestion of his being obsessed with the sexual context of what the girls may be doing there. Perhaps due to the forest's association with Pan, the lusty god of nature, Christianity also links the forest realm with the devil. Also, the Puritans of Salem had reason to hate the forest, as their early years of settlement involved clearing the forest land to create living space and farmland. The struggle against nature quite naturally leads to attitudes demonizing it, and the fear of the forest is a natural outgrowth of this.
Interestingly, in the film adaptation by Nicholas Hytner (adapted for the screen by the playwright himself), the forest rites are quite sensually portrayed, with the girls becoming excited, and Abigail is shown drinking chicken blood as part of a spell to make John Proctor love her. Betty Parris mentions this when the two are left alone and Abigail slaps her and commands her not to speak of it. There is a sense in the play that Abigail was the ringleader of the forest activities.
The forest is a place apart from the village where the girls may express themselves away from the watchful eyes of the adult men in the village. The play portrays the forest as the location where the girls indulge their wild natures.
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