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The Reverend Parris, a selfish, hypocritical and petty man, once a prominent and wealthy minister of the community, is by Act IV reduced to a financially broken man, disillusioned and humbled.
At the beginning of the play when the Reverend Parris learns that his niece Abigail Williams may have participated in inappropriate behaviors in the forest, he demands to know for certain, mainly for selfish reasons:
If you trafficked with spirits in the forest I must know it now, for surely my enemies will, and they will ruin me with it. (Act I)
Very anxious about maintaining his reputation, the Reverend Parris even perjures himself when he is questioned about whether he saw any naked dancing in the woods, and he denies any knowledge of the girls' activities when, in fact, he has confronted Abigail with his having witnessed some of the girls' activities.
In Act III after Giles Corey, Francis Nurse, and John Proctor make efforts to present evidence that supports their wives, Parris merely accuses them of attempting to destroy the court. He wishes to protect his own self-interests, such as preserving the court so he is not condemned himself. Further, he proves himself hypocritical as he pretends to be concerned about the moral health of the village.
In Act IV, Parris does not want the trial to end because the scandal of having a niece and daughter who lie will bring about the end of his career. He also tries to make a scapegoat of Proctor, who has challenged his greed earlier, so he can save his reputation.
Nevertheless, he confesses that Abigail has run off with thirty-one pounds. He even cries about the theft and the fear for his life after discovering a knife in the door. However, he feels no sorrow for the deaths he has caused.
The figure of Parris that the audience is presented with in Act IV is very different from the figure of Parris who is placed at the heart of the witch trials. Instead of his confidence and power, Parris is presented as a broken man. The news that his niece, who was at the centre of the witch trials, has ran away and robbed him of all of his money, leaves him desperately afraid. He reports to Danforth that he found a dagger in his door, and he fears that he will be killed:
You cannot hang this sort. There is danger for me. I dare not step outside at night!
Parris is therefore presented in this Act as a broken man who has lost all of his swagger and confidence. He is a man who recognises that any power and respect he once commanded has now ended, and as a result he realises he is hated by those in Salem and his life is in danger.
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