In The Crucible, Hale says, "They [the books] must be [heavy]; they are weighted with authority." What is the significance of this remark?

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This statement, spoken by the renowned witch hunter Reverend Hale, shows the tremendous faith he has in his own education, as well as his overconfidence and even cockiness when it comes to his ability to find witches. His arrogance, which stems from the amount of reading he has done on...

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This statement, spoken by the renowned witch hunter Reverend Hale, shows the tremendous faith he has in his own education, as well as his overconfidence and even cockiness when it comes to his ability to find witches. His arrogance, which stems from the amount of reading he has done on the subject of witches, is on full display when he says things like,

No, no. Now let me instruct you. We cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are definite as stone.

Standing in a room with at least a few intelligent people, some with more education or experience than otherss—and even another minister, the Reverend Parris—Hale champions the knowledge he's gained from his weighty books. He is the expert here because he has read and studied all of these texts. In fact, he refuses even to continue his investigation unless the others are "prepared to believe" him should he determine that Betty Parris is not the clutches of hell. He believes that "all the invisible world" has been "caught, defined, and calculated" in his books, and Hale claims that he will "crush [Satan] utterly if he has shown his face!" In other words, Hale—a mere mortal minister—believes that his books give him the power to "crush" a supernatural adversary who once (in his religious view) almost succeeded in overthrowing heaven. This is hubris indeed.

Hale does come to recognize this later in the play. In Act Four, he describes his earlier self, saying,

I came into this village like a bridegroom to his beloved, bearing gifts of high religion; the very crowns of holy law I brought, and what I touched with my bright confidence, it died [. . .].

He knows that he was overconfident, that he trusted too much in the authority of others, and that it led him to turn a blind eye to truth. He is brought quite low in the end.

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When Reverend Hale first arrives at Reverend Parris's home in Salem, he is carrying half a dozen heavy books. Reverend Parris proceeds to lift one of the books up and comments on their heavy weight. Hale responds by saying,

They must be; they are weighted with authority. (Miller, 37)

Reverend Hale is figuratively commenting on the authority of the experts who wrote the books on witchcraft and the dark arts. He is depicted as an enthusiastic intellectual who has spent a significant amount of time studying the books. The books were written by acclaimed experts in the areas of supernatural and spiritual realms. Hale aligns himself with their authority and firmly believes that he is equipped and trained to discover the presence of evil in Salem.

Hale's education regarding the dark arts gives him supreme confidence and contributes to his narrow perspective on Salem's problems. He lacks the ability to discern between truth and lies because he is so invested in his knowledge and so confident in his authority on the subject. By referring to the books as "weighted with authority," Miller is cleverly using a play on words, because the information in the text will lead to the deaths of many innocent civilians.

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The weighty tomes that Hale brings with him to Salem are both literally and metaphorically heavy. Physically, they are enormous and over-sized. Figuratively, they are weighted with the authority of those who claim to be experts in the subject of witchcraft. At this stage in the play, Hale is still incredibly naive. He seems to think that consulting one of his learned volumes is all you need to do to identify a witch.

But as he will soon discover, the judicial authorities of Salem have their own ideas of what constitutes a witch, ideas that they didn't get from any book. Hale comes to realize that there are all kinds of factors involved in the witch-trials—personal, social, economic—that have nothing whatsoever to do with what's written down in any book. No matter how weighty, learned, or erudite Hale's books may be, they cannot capture the social and political complexity of the witch-hunting hysteria. Hale's book-learning has run up against the harsh realities of small town political life, and it's a sobering, disillusioning experience for him.

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In Hale's quote from Act I, we see an example of Miller's clever word play.  When Hale comes to town (after being sent for by Reverend Parris) he comes with large books filled with knowledge of the supernatural world.

Here are all your familiar spirits- your incubi and succubi; your witches that go by land, by air, and by sea; your wizards of the night and of the day.

Hale's books are "weighty" in two ways. 1) They are heavy.  The large, over-sized books document all aspects of the witchcraft world.  2) The information in the books will condemn those who are witches and set free those who are not.  At this point in the play, Hale trusts the books' knowledge and believes that armed with the information contained in them, he can find out if the girls are afflicted and find out who is tormenting them.

 

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