How was conformity seen throughout The Crucible and how did it affect the Salem Puritan society?
Early in the play, conformity is presented as a cultural issue for the Puritans in Salem. The notion of taboo and social transgression are defined, largely, along the lines of lack of conformity to clear and popularly enforced social codes. Additionally, church attendance and even modes of speech are discussed and depicted as issues governed by or related to conformity.
The girls who dance naked in the woods before the opening of the play are subject to quite severe punishment - even death. The crime they commit is that of breaking with the dictates of the church. This is, effectively, the definition of sin in Salem.
Proctor is chastised for exaggerating when speaking to Reverend Parris early in the play. Proctor says that if there were a group of people formed in opposition to Reverend Parris and his church that he (Proctor) would gladly join it. Rebecca Nurse speaks out and attempts to make Proctor recant his statement. His speech does not conform to the standards of religiously defined morality of expression.
Proctor's poor church attendance is also shown as an example of his lack of conformity to an otherwise universally agreed upon social code. Puritans in Salem are expected to attend church without fail. It is the church that keeps them together. In some ways, the church is used as a means to threaten individuals and (seen positively) mold behavior toward acceptable ends.
People do not want to be seen as straying from the church or failing in piety in this society. Conformity to convention is what defines one's true membership in the society. Non-conformity confuses that membership, as seen in the example of Proctor when he confronts Reverend Parris on several occasions.
Conformity is examined throughout the play by illustrating the Puritan citizens' austere lifestyles, emphasis on reputation, and support of the corrupt court. In the Puritan community of Salem, a citizen's reputation is paramount, and each citizen is expected to comply with the church's orders and community standards. People in Salem are expected to attend Sunday services, exercise humility, and behave according to the rules set by the clergy according to the Bible. Any deviation from the strict, humble lifestyle is considered a punishable offense. One of the reasons why Abigail and the other girls initially lie about being involved in witchcraft is to avoid punishment for dancing naked in the woods.
In Salem's austere community, one's reputation is also important, and citizens are expected to maintain appropriate lifestyles by conforming to the strict culture of the community. Unfortunately, John Proctor deviates from the norm and pays the ultimate price for not conforming to the community's standards. John Proctor is criticized for plowing on the Sabbath, chastised for speaking out against Reverend Parris, punished for challenging the court, and viewed with contempt for admitting infidelity.
The fact that the majority of the citizens support the corrupt court also corresponds to the theme of conformity. As hysteria sweeps through Salem, citizens begin supporting the court and then act accordingly to the corrupt proceedings. Other than John Proctor, Giles Corey, and Francis Nurse, the majority of the citizens do not initially speak out against the court. The majority of Salem's population conforms to the hysterical atmosphere and attend the proceedings.