What does this quote mean? Can you give an example to help me understand the meaning?
[from The Crucible, at the end of Act II there's a monologue spoken by John Proctor.]
"We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!"
Proctor's quote at the end of Act II means we are the same people we have always been; however children who are overtaken by social fears have the power to control the life or death of a single individual, by accusing them of witchcraft. In addition, simple revenge by common people against each other is the motive behind it all.
This is true of Salem at that time in history. It's what Miller's The Crucible is all about: people accusing each other just to get revenge in a climate where children have the power of life or death by merely pointing a finger at them. It's hysteria.
When John Proctor utters these words, he is incredibly angry (and somewhat incredulous) as a result of his wife, Elizabeth, being accused of and arrested for witchcraft. He is also responding to Reverend Hale's continued support of the courts despite their obvious corruption. Proctor thinks that Salem is the same as Salem has always been, that its residents are who they have always been. No adults have gone to the Devil; what's changed is that the village's children are suddenly running the show, tools of the adults who would use them to exact revenge on their enemies. Reverend Parris doesn't like the Proctors, and now Elizabeth is accused. The Putnams don't like Rebecca Nurse, and now she is accused. The men who should be helping the town to run more smoothly, who should be helping to maintain order -- men like the Reverends Parris and Hale -- are, instead, fueling the fire. Proctor's dislike of Parris has already been established, but now that Hale refuses to intervene when Elizabeth has clearly been framed, Proctor calls him "Pontius Pilate" and tells him that God will hold him responsible for his complacency. Proctor knows that hysteria and not justice is controlling the town.