What is the author's purpose of Act One in The Crucible?
In the written version, Arthur Miller added some narrative explanation to give background on Parris and to provide more explication about the very strict religious and insular way of life of Salem’s people. In the dramatic version, the play itself, we find Betty in and out of consciousness after the girl’s night of dancing and singing around the cauldron, apparently in attempts to commune with the dead. Act One also illustrates Parris’ selfish character; his is more concerned with the moral code of the town and his own standing than the health of his daughter. It presents the possibility that some of the upstanding citizens may also be hypocritical. We also see Abigail talking to Mercy and trying to get their story straight with the other girls. In Act One, the setting is presented as a ultra-religious and potentially hypocritical town with children acting out as children do. And we see how this combination might spark the beginnings of dogmatic and mob induced hysteria.
Miller's purpose in the first act of his world about Salem is to help bring out the emotional and political dynamic about the setting. In the narrative notes of the First Act, there is discussion about Parris and his need to be in control of both situations and others' perceptions about him. Along these lines, Miller brings out the idea that there is a fundamental flaw (or several) in how the community members view children and how to raise them. This aspect of extreme repression will help to contribute to their eventual rebellion later on, causing the entire cycle of accusations that destabilize the town. Finally, Miller explores how the sphere of individual freedom is violated in the manner in which Salem townspeople have a tendency to "mind other peoples' business." Through this, Miller has been able to bring out that individual freedom is not entirely validated in the town. With these inclusions, Miller is able to bring out some of the elements embedded in Salem culture that will invariably bring about the drama to follow. It is through this lens that the audience has a better idea of character motivation and why individuals act in the manner they do throughout the course of the drama.