What do we learn in the opening narrative of The Crucible that is important to the events that follow?What happened in the opening narrative that is important to the events that follow?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Prior to Act One ofThe Crucible, Miller gives a historical note about the play just to say it is based on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 but it is not "history" in the sense an "academic historian" would use it. Some characters have been fused into one. Other changes were made to make the tale more fitting for a play.

The narrative that begins Act One starts with a description of Reverend Parris as a man who has cut "a villainous path" through history. The people of Salem had no novels, no theaters, and they did not even celebrate Christmas. If there was a day off, they used it for prayer. The town is governed by strict religious doctrine and they even have a patrol to report anyone who does not work or contribute. This constant surveillance and fanatically strict way of life is what contributed to the tragedy of the Witch Trials.

This predilection for minding other people's business was time-honored among the people of Salem, and it undoubtedly created many of the suspicions which were to feed the coming madness.

The people of Salem viewed the American landscape a place that needed purified. "The parochial snobbery of these people was partly responsible for their failure to convert the Indians. Salem's people felt a "holier than thou" attitude and viewed all those who did not agree with them as heathens.

Salem had set up a theocracy, a combination of church and government. Each society is organized into a balance between order and freedom. When individuals crave more freedom (as was the case with the girls playing in the woods), a society as zealously strict as Salem's will react by repressing such individuality. It is suggested that all societies will be judged according to how they maintain this balance between order and freedom. Salem failed in this respect. The witch hunt opened the door to renewed feuds, land disputes, and other accusations. In fact, it even became "patriotic and holy" to accuse others because it was believed to be for the good of the community.

The theocracy of church and state combined meant that such an accusation would be considered "patriotic and holy" by the religious zealots and leaders of Salem. It is possible that the term "patriotic" is a subtle allusion to the communist witch hunt, led by Senator Joe McCarthy, which was occurring in America at the time Miller wrote this play.