Discuss the role that grudges and personal rivalries play in the witch trial hysteria.
Beneath the hysteria concerning witchcraft throughout the community, the Salem trials were a chance for citizens to act upon their long-standing grievances with each other. In Act One, the audience is told that Thomas Putnam resents Reverend Parris's position because his wife's brother-in-law, James Bayley, was turned down as the minister of Salem. This explains the Putnams' initial interest in directing the hysteria towards Reverend Parris. Later on in the play, Rebecca Nurse is accused of witchcraft despite her impeccable reputation. The Nurse family was part of the faction that prevented James Bayley from taking office. As a result, the Putnam family is the first to complain about Rebecca Nurse and associate her with witchcraft. In Act Three, the audience also learns that Thomas Putnam is having his daughter accuse innocent men like George Jacobs so that he can buy his land once he confesses. Clearly, the Putnams have deep-seated grievances against important members of their community and use the witch trials to enact revenge.
Another significant character who uses the power of the Court to enact revenge is Abigail Williams. Her desire to be with John Proctor and grievance against his wife motivates her to accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft, hoping that she will hang. Ironically, it is John Proctor who sacrifices himself at the end of the play.
It was quite easy, in the real witch trial era, in the play, and in the 1950s McCarthy era the play was mocking, to get rid of rivals or benefit personally from publicly accusing someone of witchcraft. Rumors were enough, so the accusation didn't even have to be direct.
In the play itself there are numerous examples of rivalries that got swept into the witchcraft hysteria. There's Mr. Putnam, who is always in land disputes with his neighbors, including Proctor and Giles Corey. So he would benefit from their being arrested or hung. There is Abigail and her rivalry with Proctor's wife, as she is jealous of Elizabeth's being married to John. In addition, there is the rivalry between Proctor and Reverend Parris, as Parris tries to save his adopted daughter and his own good name in the town, and is willing to see John go down in pursuit of those goals.
So rivalries accelerated and intensified during the witchcraft hysteria, in real life and in The Crucible.
InThe Crucible, the witch trial hysteria is fueled by people's grudges and personal rivalries. Many characters use the witchcraft trials for revenge and their own personal gain. For example, Abigail Williams is able to accuse Elizabeth Proctor in hopes of eliminating Elizabeth as a rival for John Proctor's affection. Thomas and Ann Putnam, jealous of Rebecca Nurse's large family, use the witch trial hysteria to have Rebecca charged with the supernatural murder of their dead babies. Martha Corey is accused of witchcraft by a man upset with her for not giving him his money back for a pig he bought from her but didn't take care of properly. The backdrop of the witch trials created an opportunity for people to act on their long-held grudges. Unfortunately, many of them did act on this and added fuel to the fire thus elongating the witchcraft trials.
In real life, the Putnam family and Nurse family had been involved in disputes over land and other matters for many, many years. This tension could possibly have been at the heart of the girls' accusations of Rebecca Nurse. In fact, the Putnams conflicted with a great many people in the community, and they were angry about the prosperity of Salem Town versus Salem Village, where they lived. They wanted to increase their own status and power by helping to decrease Salem Village's dependence on the town, and one way to accomplish this was to hire a fully-ordained minister for the village: they lobbied hard to retain Reverend Parris while their political enemies, the Porters, worked against the Putnams's interests. In the end, every complaint had either Thomas Putnam or John Putnam's name on it.