Arthur Miller provides information about the characters and setting in the extensive stage directions and through the characters’ dialogue. In the beginning of act 1, there are several pages of background information. Miller introduces Reverend Parris and situates his character within the village where he is a minister. By taking time to situate one individual within his home and his social environment, Miller creates interest in Parris’s story so that the play has concrete elements, not merely abstract concepts. I
n addition, he presents Parris as a father who, ironically, had “no interest in…or talent with” children. Once we have read such a statement, we will continue to look for behavior that supports the playwright’s assertion. Parris’s inability to deal with the girls as children is clearly shown in the courtroom with his treatment of Mary Warren.
Those stage directions also present a general image of the social environment in Salem, which will help the reader understand Miller’s interpretation of the reasons that the “Salem tragedy” developed. He emphasizes the need for unity that the people of Salem desired and presents the paradox that this desire in fact drove them apart:
Evidently the time came in New England when the repressions of order were heavier than seemed warranted by the dangers against which the order was organized.
In the “Note on the Historical Accuracy” at the beginning, Miller points out that little concrete data was available about many individuals, and he merged some into composites. For some characters, Miller provides a brief biography when he introduces them. Others are developed primarily through their interactions with other characters and in group scenes.
While not all of the girls who make accusations stand out as individuals, each has some defining characteristics so that the audience understands the reasons they behave as they do while interacting with their peers. Although Abigail clearly has the personality of a ring-leader, we also need to be shown why other girls, especially Mary Warren and Mercy Lewis, would be persuaded to follow her.
Regarding other individuals, not just the girls, Miller says the witch-hunt provided an opportunity to express their own “guilt and sins,” disguised with the witchcraft accusations. As he presents the characters, he mentions grudges they had against neighbors and later shows how those long-standing resentments were expressed through the accusations. This is made evident in the conflict between Thomas Putnam and Giles Corey, which leads to Corey’s brutal killing.