What is the significance to how the Salem society responds to individuals who seek to question or challenge authority?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one of Miller's strengths in his drama is that he highlights the fundamental danger of a society that refuses to listen to the voice of dissent.  Being in the grips of hysteria and paranoia, Salem repudiates the voice of dissent.  When Giles Corey refuses to name names, he is pressed to death.  When Rebecca Nurse speaks out against the obvious misinformation about the girls, she is silenced.  When Francis Nurse presents a petition in opposition to the arrest of his wife and others, he is relegated.  When Proctor speaks out against what is happening, he is imprisoned.  In these examples, Miller demonstrates how a society that is gripped by fear and driven by manipulation does not deal well with questioning authority and freedom of expression.  It is Miller's genius to demonstrate how one of the first casualties in times of fear is the freedom to speak voices of dissent and questioning authority.  Salem's responses to those who question or challenge authority is reflective of how social settings governed by fear cannot support freedom of expression.  In presenting Salem in this light, Miller is able to present a social order that is part of what it means to be "America," but is distinctly "Unamerican."