The Crucible - Situations of people in Salem

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e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Looking at the social situations of the people in Salem can help to understand much of the subtext in the play. Financial motivations lead to accusations of witchcraft that will clear the way for some people to take ownership of farmland and to exact revenge for old grudges. 

The two most dramatically central social situations, however, are not related to money concerns directly. Proctor, Elizabeth and Abigail are involved in a bitter triangle of infidelity, envy and animosity. Also, Parris feels that he is not respected (enough) in Salem and so his position in the town is uncertain. 

Parris instigates the pursuit of claims of witchcraft in large part because he fears that his daughter's role in the midnight dancing in the woods will ruin his position in Salem.

"Finding the witches becomes a way for this pious and credulous man to assert his authority" (eNotes). 

Thus, an argument can be made that this man's lack of security indirectly leads to the witch trials and to Proctor's death. More directly, Parris clearly seeks to solidify his position and to deflect blame from his family by pursuing claims that someone in town has been "possessing" the girls via witchcraft. 

The affair that Proctor had with Abigail before the action of the play has significant repercussions in the play.

Proctor, gently pressing her from him, with great sympathy but firmly: Child—

Abigail, with a flash of anger: How do you call me child!

Proctor: Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I’ll ever reach for you again. Wipe it out of mind. We never touched, Abby.

Abigail's desire to reconnect with Proctor leads her to accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft. This accusation leads Proctor to enter the court and essentially incriminate himself. 

The action of the play stems from these various personal/social situations. Importantly, none of these situations relates to witchcraft in any way. Only Tituba has a real interest in the occult, but she is not behind the many machinations and accusations that overtake Salem once Reverend Hale comes to town. 

In considering how personal motivations explain individual decisions (such as Abigail's decision to accuse Elizabeth), we can see that the surface elements of the play are intended to be transparent - the audience is intended to see that Abigail's motives are personal and driven by envy and revenge. The same can be said of other characters.

This points to a conclusion that the witchcraft scare that wreaks havoc in the town is animated by political, personal and social concerns that use witchcraft as a convenient tool or mask.

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