How does predestination relate to The Crucible?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Puritans believed in the idea of Predestination, that one's fate—whether one was saved or damned to hell—was decided before the person was born. Although one could not be sure of one's fate, being successful in life was a sign that someone might be fated for salvation. In The Crucible ,...

See
This Answer Now

Start your subscription to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your Subscription

Puritans believed in the idea of Predestination, that one's fate—whether one was saved or damned to hell—was decided before the person was born. Although one could not be sure of one's fate, being successful in life was a sign that someone might be fated for salvation. In The Crucible, the authorities, such as Reverend Parris and Danforth, are assured in part of their own rightness because they assume that their worldly success signifies that they are among the elect or saved. On the other hand, those who suffer, including those accused of witchcraft, have likely been damned before birth and deserve to die.

The Puritans' belief in predestination made them more willing to accept the suffering of others, as it was clear that those suffering were likely already damned, and it made Puritans less likely to try to protect the suffering or alter their fate. Individuals' attempts to protect or save the damned were seen as fruitless in the face of God's clear decision to punish them. Therefore, the accused in The Crucible are sent to death without much mercy.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Before the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 40s, orthodox Puritan belief about predestination was that salvation could not be earned; it was God's privilege to determine who would be among the elect and who would be consigned to eternal damnation. Puritans could only continually search themselves for outward signs to try to ascertain what their fate would be.  

In "The Crucible," Rebecca Nurse seems to be a character with unassailable belief that she was among the elect.  With no demonstrated sins to count, she approaches her execution calmly, secure in the belief that she would soon be with God. In this sense, she is above the fray of those struggling in the trials. One could view Giles Corey's refusal to validate the trials by entering a plea in the same way.  Giles is simply beyond the squabbles of Salem.

John Proctor, on the other hand, is a Puritan who does not believe himself to be among the elect, thus it is understandable why he cherishes his earthly life and initially agrees to confess. He has no hope of salvation and so takes the only moral stand left to him: to communicate his disdain for the corruption of the lies and delusions of the trials. Proctor enacts a measure of personal redemption by not denouncing his faith in something higher than the broken theocracy of Salem. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is a somewhat complicated question because Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, was an historical drama. Miller was interested in the psychology of fanaticism, and wrote the play as a way to analyze the phenomenon of Joseph McCarthy's "witch hunt" for communists in the 1950s, which Miller saw as having parallels with the Salem witch trials. Miller himself saw the theocracy of Salem and the ideology of anti-Communism as both inevitably leading to certain types of injustice in the form of scapegoating and purging of heretics. While the events Miller is describing in The Crucible occurred in a deeply religious environment, Miller's version of the events focuses on the psychology of the characters; Miller himself was a non-observant Jew with no significant interest in Calvinist theology. Proctor's final choices echo Miller's own decision not to cooperate with McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Thus, while predestination was an important part of the belief system of the original participants in the Salem witch trials, it doesn't have a significant role in the play. 

The most significant ways in which the Calvinist interpretation of predestination would have affected the people living in Salem would be the belief that whether one is elect or damned is predestined and thus that those who are elect are unconditionally so, independent of their actions. Outward success was seen as a sign of election. This could lead those who believed themselves to be elect to become arrogant or complacent. Also, since misfortune might suggest that one was not elect after all, it could lead to crippling self-doubt.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team