Intolerance In The Crucible

How is intolerance a theme of The Crucible?

The theme of intolerance permeates Arthur Miller's play The Crucible. Anyone who is different from the people of Salem or whose behavior does not match expected norms is subject to suspicion and accusation. Reverend Parris and the Putnams are models of intolerance, as is the Salem court, led by Judge Danforth.

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The community of Salem, as depicted by Arthur Miller in The Crucible , is intolerant of anyone perceived to be different and of anyone whose behavior does not match the norms expected by the majority of the town's citizens. Tituba, for example, is "other" in the eyes of the people...

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The community of Salem, as depicted by Arthur Miller in The Crucible, is intolerant of anyone perceived to be different and of anyone whose behavior does not match the norms expected by the majority of the town's citizens. Tituba, for example, is "other" in the eyes of the people of Salem. Tituba is a slave from Barbados, and her ways are not the ways of Salem. Her neighbors do not understand her and never think to try. They automatically assume that there is something demonic about her actions, that she is a witch, and that she is dangerous to the community. But Tituba actually seems to care deeply about Betty in the play's first scene.

Reverend Parris is probably one of the most intolerant characters in the play. Any behavior that is slightly out of sync with the religious and moral standards of the Salem congregation is a horror in his eyes. Dancing, for instance, is an abomination, and Parris simply cannot abide by John Proctor's failure to attend Sunday services, much less his tendency to plow on Sunday. Proctor makes no secret of his disdain for Parris, and this aggravates Parris' intolerance even further. As minister of Salem, Parris expects the people to listen and obey him, and when they do not, Parris cannot bear it.

The Putnams also strongly exhibit intolerance to anyone they view as different from and inferior to themselves. Thomas Putnam's brother-in-law had failed to be elected minister of Salem, and Putnam is bitter about it. He resents those whose viewpoint does not follow his own, and he is, therefore, quick to accuse them of all sorts of wrongdoing. Further, Putnam has been engaged in battles over landownership with many of his neighbors, and when he fails to get what he wants, he simply cannot tolerate the "injustice" of it. Again, he is quick to accuse those who dare to oppose him, including Rebecca Nurse.

The court convened to try Salem's accused "witches" is also a model of intolerance. Any disruption or contradiction of the court is a sign of severe disrespect in the eyes of Judge Danforth, and he simply will not tolerate anyone speaking what he does not wish to hear. He boasts of how many people he has condemned to hang and refuses to accept the reasonable, practical evidence or depositions of Proctor or Giles Corey, mostly because he has already made up his mind.

Again, Danforth is swayed by what he views as aberrant behavior in Protector and Giles. They do not behave as residents of Salem are supposed to behave, and therefore, their words are of little use to Danforth, who has made himself the final word for the people of Salem, a word of extreme intolerance.

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The theme of intolerance is examined in the community's support of the Court and the traditional values of Salem. Initially, the girls choose to rebel against their austere, repressive society, which believes that children should remain quiet and subordinate. The intolerant beliefs of the strictly religious community are portrayed in Parris's overreaction and the girls' fear of punishment. John Proctor is also depicted as an outcast in the eyes of religious leaders and government officials because of his church attendance record and propensity to work on the Sabbath. Reverend Hale and Parris display their intolerance towards John's independent disposition by doubting his testimony. The intolerant nature of the traditional Salem citizens also provides support for the girls, who openly accuse innocent people of witchcraft. Danforth and Hathorne's opinions concerning the authority of the Court also contribute to the theme of intolerance. Their refusal to accept and acknowledge any person or idea that challenges the Court demonstrates their intolerance.

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Salem is a community full of people who are largely intolerant of dissent.  Reverend Parris's primary concern is not the spiritual well-being of his community but rather protecting his own position of authority.  He fears that his enemies will learn of the girls' activities and use them against him; he believes there's a faction in the community that seeks to unseat him, and he accuses anyone who disagrees with him of being a part of that faction.  The Putnams are also incredibly intolerant of dissent.  Mrs. Putnam is so committed to her belief that witches are responsible for the deaths of her children that she snaps at Rebecca Nurse for suggesting otherwise.  Mr. Putnam has been humiliated by the dissent he's faced in the village—in regard to his father's will, his political candidate, and so forth—and he cannot brook opposition without becoming defensive and hostile.

The people of Salem are also largely intolerant of difference.  Sarah Good is poor, and she is an outcast.  Tituba is black, and so she is enslaved and thought to be untrustworthy (consider the fact that no proof at all is required for all to believe Abigail's accusations of her).  The destitute, people of color, and women are especially likely to be accused of wrongdoing.

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I think that Miller's work thematically develops the idea of intolerance in different contexts.  Intolerance can be considered a theme in the drama because it is seen in different characters towards different characters.  For example, there is automatic intolerance whenever someone, anyone, is accused of witchcraft.  Consider the immediate attitudes towards Tituba.  The intolerance and exclusion shown to her is representative of how quick the community of Salem demonstrates it when someone is accused of witchcraft.  There is intolerance shown even amongst the girls, themselves.  When Mary Warren tries to voice disagreement with Abigail, she is met with brutal and quick intolerance to silence her and put her back in line with the wishes of the group.  At the same time, as Abigail assumes a greater prominence in the drama, there is greater institutional intolerance demonstrated.  Judges Hathorne and Danforth exhibit intolerance towards anyone who disagrees or even tries to speak out against the court's decisions.  Francis Nurse, Giles Corey, and John Proctor are all examples of experiencing this intolerance of the court in a direct manner.  In these contexts, the idea of silencing voices, preventing full discourse and denying a sense of humanity becomes the key elements of intolerance, representing it as a theme in the drama.

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