Just as the witch hunt in Salem reveals the strength and courage of some characters in the drama, it also reveals the greed and cowardice in others, especially in Reverend Samuel Parris. From the moment witchcraft is mentioned as a possible cause of the children’s strange behavior, Parris views every subsequent event and circumstance in terms of its impact on his reputation and personal finances. At no time does he demonstrate concern for anyone but himself as the hysteria grows in Salem. John Proctor recognized the moral deficiencies in Reverend Parris long before Salem is consumed by the witch hunt. In explaining why the Proctors’ third child had not been baptized, John says, “I like it not that Mr. Parris should lay his hand upon my baby. I see no light of God in that man.” In Parris’s actions as the leader of the church in Salem, Proctor finds no love, humility, compassion, or dedication in serving God; he sees instead Parris’s selfishness and greed.
Before becoming the head of the church in Salem, Parris had lived in Barbados where he made his living in commercial trade. In accepting the position in Salem, he had been driven by worldly rather than spiritual concerns, especially in regard to money and what it can buy. He negotiated his services to the church, no doubt, as he had once negotiated deals in his “thrifty business” in Barbados. The Reverend had demanded a contract under which he would be paid sixty-six pounds annually and be provided with a house and firewood; once employed, he demanded a deed to the house. Moreover, Parris had been displeased with the simple trappings of the little church in Salem, insisting that the congregation buy candlesticks made of gold to replace the pewter candlesticks on the altar. “I think, sometimes, the man dreams of cathedrals, not clapboard meetin’ houses,” Proctor says of the Reverend.
Parris views his position in Salem as a career, not a calling, which is made evident in how he reacts when witchcraft is mentioned in regard to the children’s strange behavior. “I am certain there be no element of witchcraft here,” he reassures Goody Putnam. He then begs her husband, “I pray you, leap not to witchcraft …. They will howl me out of Salem for such corruption in my house.” In a time when many believed in the power of witches to act in concert with the devil in taking human souls, Parris refuses to entertain the possibility that the children are afflicted by evil spirits. He fears even the mention of “so disastrous a charge,” viewing it as a dire threat to his personal wellbeing. That the children’s souls might be at risk is of no concern to him, but he is very concerned about losing his job.
Despite Parris’s attempts to stifle the discussion of witchcraft in Salem, the community is soon overwhelmed with the hunt for witches and the establishment of Judge Danforth’s court. Throughout the trials, Parris aligns himself with the court and its proceedings; unlike Reverend Hale, a man guided by conscience, Parris does not question the workings of the court, even though he has good reason to question the veracity of Abigail Williams as the chief accuser of the innocent, nor is he affected by the tragedy occurring in his congregation. It is only when Abigail breaks into Parris’s strongbox and runs away with his money that the Reverend responds with heartfelt emotion. “Thirty-one pound is gone. I am penniless,” he exclaims to Judge Hathorne. Parris then “covers his face and sobs.” Reverend Parris has no tears for innocent lives destroyed, but in his greed and cowardice, he has a great deal of pity for himself.