In The Crucible, how does Danforth's character demonstrate hypocrisy in the Puritan culture?
Puritan beliefs at the time of The Crucible were very strong and consisted of the idea that one should adhere strictly to the policies of the church. Any questioning of the church's authority was seen as questioning the will of God himself. In addition, such things as physical gratification or individuality were seen as a threat to their way of life. Shared values were the strength of the Puritan church; these shared values consisted of faithfulness, honesty, and integrity.
This, however, is what makes Governor Danforth's character all the more hypocritical. Not only does he refuse to question the legitimacy of his own decision to hang possibly innocent elders of the community based on the words of a few teenaged girls, he also chooses to fulfill his own individual desires before upholding the laws that he is sworn to uphold; both of these things go against the very fiber of the Puritan way. He would rather believe in the presence of evil than in his own friends and community members who have already proven themselves to be good people. His selfish desires to be proven right and to be seen as a commanding figure of authority know no bounds. In every sense, he is the epitome of the evil that he claims he wants to eradicate from his community.
The Puritan way of life prizes authority above all else, and governmental authority is as unquestionable as their authority is derived from the power of God. Thus, Governor Danforth is capable of reversing his decision in the courtroom, but he knows that his word is final and therefore he will never be expected to. If he truly had the desire to uphold the values of faithfulness, honesty, and integrity, he would do the right thing, but his pride as an authority figure whose word is seen as being correct and above reproach will not allow him to do so.
In The Crucible, Governor Danforth is filled with pride. He cannot admit he has been wrong about the hangings of innocent people. Danforth will not reverse his decision about hanging people who appear to not be guilty. Danforth with his Puritan pride is nothing but a self righteous man who has a superior attitude. He believes himself to be superior and more religious than others. He is hypocritical in his sense of believing teenage girls over grown adults who have proved to have good character.
When the evidence proves Proctor and the others are innocent, Danforth will not reverse his decision which is to hang them. He is more concerned about his pride. He is worried that a reversed decision will make the court appear foolish and confused. He is more concerned about his reputation than he is sparing innocent lives:
Although, like Hale, he is presented with considerable evidence that Proctor and the others are innocent, he refuses to grant them clemency. He argues that it would reflect badly on the court if he released prisoners after executing a number of people accused of the same crimes—regardless of their innocence.
Danforth is a stubborn man. He is a hypocrite in that he will not allow his ego to be deflated. He sees no flexibility in the law and he is allowing innocent people to hang. He would rather innocent people die than to appear wrong about his court room decisions. He is a staunch Puritan who sees evil behind every action, no matter how innocent a person may be. His pride and position will not allow him to reverse a previous decision even though he knows Proctor and the others are innocent.