The Crucible Questions and Answers
by Arthur Miller

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How does the binary nature of Puritan thinking affect the witch trials?

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From the beginning of Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, strict Puritan religion is presented as one of the factors leading to the hysteria surrounding the witch trials. The opening lines of act 1 set Salem in 1692 as a community as harsh and as cold as the land they inhabit.

However, as the play continues, flaws in the Puritans’ cut-and-dry beliefs begin to emerge, demonstrating how their binary nature is impacting the trial. The town of Salem believes that the devil is everywhere and that anyone can sin, so it is their job to purge the sinners from their land. This fear of punishment keeps most of the town in line.

No one considers the possibility that the girls could be lying, because their religion forbids it. In act 3, Deputy Governor Danforth explains to Reverend Hale that the case depends on the girls; as the victims of witchcraft, he believes, they are the only ones who can explain what they have endured. His belief, like that of the Puritans, is black and white; their religion won’t let them lie, so the girls must be telling the truth. He says,

I hope you will forgive me. I have been thirty-two year at the bar, sir, and I should be confounded were I called upon to defend these people. Let you consider, now and I bid you all do likewise. In an ordinary crime, how does one defend the accused? One calls up witnesses to prove his innocence. But witchcraft is ipso facto, on its face and by its nature, an invisible crime, is it not? Therefore, who may possibly be witness to it? The witch and the victim. None other. Now we cannot hope the witch will accuse herself; granted? Therefore, we must rely upon her victims—and they do testify, the children certainly do testify. As for the witches, none will deny that we are most eager for all their confessions.

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