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The play opens with Rev. Parris, Abigail, and eventually Tituba trying to awake the reverend's daughter Betty. She is unresponsive to their words and touch and seems to be in a comalike state. Most would assume that Rev. Parris's concern would lie with his daughter's health, but instead, he questions Abigail about her and Betty's behavior in the forest. Betty became "ill" after Parris caught the town's girls in the woods; so Parris naturally assumes that there is a connection between their activity and his daughter's current condition.
The town's minister's chief concern is referenced in Arthur Miller's background information. Parris is not a popular pastor and was not unanimously brought to Salem. Additionally, he has made some enemies in the town by preaching on materialistic desires (gaudy candlesticks, higher pay) and brimstone and fire. He seems to do nothing to encourage his parishoners. Thus, as Rev. Parris questions Abigail, he worries that his enemies will use his lack of control over his household to bring about his downfall.
Betty's apparent illness as well as the girls' activities in the forest from the night before cause Reverend Parris's concern. He questions Abigail about their "dancing like heathen" in the forest, telling her, "if you trafficked with spirits in the forest I must know it now, for surely my enemies will, and they will ruin me with it." Only later does he finally express concern about his daughter's health, telling Abigail, "my ministry's at stake, my ministry and perhaps your cousin's life." Her health does seem to be an afterthought because he names his concern for his position of authority two times, both before he references his daughter.
Parris wants to know the whole truth of what the girls were doing so that he can be prepared to meet opposition and answer questions in a way that best serves himself. He further questions Abigail about her reputation in the town, telling her that "[she] compromises [his] very character" when she behaves in any way that it less than obedient and chaste. He feels that, only recently, "some good respect [has been] rising for [him] in the parish," and he most fears that something will happen to change that. The fact that he saw Tituba with the girls, and she was swaying and chanting over the fire, further concerns him because she is from Barbados and knows folk magic (that the Puritans would have considered witchcraft).
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