What kind of man is Reverend Parris in The Crucible by Arthur Miller? 

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We learn a lot about the Reverend Parris in The Crucible, both through the play itself and through Arthur Miller's description of him. He is an unpleasant man who is always ready to pick a fight. Miller describes him this way:

At the time of these events Parris was in his middle forties. In history he cut a villainous path, and there is very little good to be said for him. He believed he was being persecuted wherever he went, despite his best efforts to win people and God to his side. In meeting, he felt insulted if someone rose to shut the door without first asking his permission.

He is a minister, but he does not think of his congregation as a shepherd thinks of his flock. In fact, he sees them as his enemies. More than one he refers to them as a "faction" and a "party" that is constantly out to get him.

We also know that Parris does not particularly like children, yet he is raising two of them, his daughter, Betty, and his niece, Abigail. He is not a kind or compassionate man or father.

John Proctor and Giles Corey reveal that Parris preaches too much hellfire and damnation, and some parents have even kept their children home because it is too much for them to bear.

Parris is also consumed with money and is bitter that he is not paid what he thinks he is worth, despite his contract. His current complaint is that he should be given the deed to the house he is living in, but it does not appear that he will get his way.

Parris's home is the seat of all the supposed witchcraft trouble in Salem. Betty and Abigail, along with some other girls, were in the forest last night. That is a great taboo in the Puritan world, an offense punishable by whipping. The interesting thing is that Parris knows about this because he, too, was in the forest last night. He saw one of the girls running naked as well as all the dancing, and he is afraid that this witchcraft furor is going to impact him. He asks Abigail directly about it.

We did dance, uncle, and when you leaped out of the bush so suddenly, Betty was frightened and then she fainted. And there’s the whole of it.

Clearly Parris has some hidden things in his life, as well.

Parris is obsequious and fawning to the parishioners he thinks are on his side, like the Putnams, but he is willing to turn on those he somehow fears, like Proctor.

When the trials begin, Parris is the first to take advantage of the situation and is happy to do whatever he can to keep any attention off himself and his household in terms of witchcraft. He lies by omission to the court by not telling about the girls dancing in the forest, and it is clear he will do anything to protect his own interest.

At the end of the play, when Parris has undergone some kind of change, he shows himself to be a weak man. He is full of self-pity because Abigail absconded with his money and because some people in town have delivered threats to his door. 

The Reverend Parris has no discernible redeeming qualities, and I can only repeat what the playwright said, that "there is very little good to be said for him."

Read the study guide:
The Crucible

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