How did the Salem Witch Trials affect authority, the government and the church? 

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

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The Crucible suggests that at the height of the Salem Witchcraft Trials, government and church authority was unlimited.  It also suggests that these same structures suffered greatly as the fraudulent nature of the trials was revealed.

Once the trials begin to take a hold of the town, it is clear that the authority structures greatly benefit.  Religious leaders like Parris and secular authorities like Hathorne and Danforth see their own power increase in the chaos of the trials.  The townspeople of Salem are so immersed in fear that they look to the leadership of these individuals for guidance.  At the same time, girls like Abigail are vaulted to the top of the Salem social hierarchy because of their role in the witch trials.  Economic leaders like Thomas Putnam benefit greatly from the trials, as he is able to consolidate his control of Salem's real estate with accused people having to sell off their property at below market value terms.  In these ways, the trials benefit specific individuals in the position of power.

However, as the drama moves towards its conclusion, it is clear that those in the position of power pay a political price for their role.  Sensing that the public's mood is turning against the trials, Abigail steals Parris's money and runs away from Salem.  In Act IV, Parris discloses that he is the target of death threats and his leadership is being questioned. In the conclusion of the drama entitled "Echoes Down the Corridor," Miller states that "Not long after the fever died, Parris was voted from office, walked out on the highroad, and was never heard of again."  Additionally, it is clear that the public was so dismayed in what took place that "the power of theocracy in Massachusetts was broken."  In these examples, Miller demonstrates the flip side of what happens to government authority in the Salem Witch Trials.

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