In the stage directions that introduce Reverend Hale in The Crucible, Arthur Miller points out the peculiarity of the hysteria that gripped Salem for a short time at the end of the seventeenth century, remarking,
Normally, the actions and deeds of a man were all that society felt comfortable in judging. The secret intent of an action was left to the ministers, priests, and rabbis to deal with. When diabolism rises, however, actions are the least important manifests of the true nature of a man.
The judgments of the people in Salem, and even of the judges at the trials, are based on nothing; neither words nor actions. They are sanctimonious evaluations of moral worth, arising from prejudice. The same might be said of the judgments made by the people of Dungatar, a similarly censorious, insular community in The Dressmaker. The townspeople are quick to judge Tilly and her mother, Molly, and to apply pejorative epithets to both:
Purl, Fred, Alvin, Muriel, Gertrude, Beula and Lois, and all the Saturday morning shoppers and country folk watched the illegitimate girl push her mad mother.
Tilly is judged for being illegitimate, which is not her fault, and Molly for being insane, which is not hers. Tilly is also unjustly blamed for the death of Stewart Pettyman. Molly is condemned as a "loose woman" for having a child out of wedlock, when it later becomes clear that Tilly's father is a rapist.
In both The Crucible and The Dressmaker, moral certainties and the judgments based on them are almost always wrong. Nonetheless, the protagonists internalize the judgments that are made about them. John accuses Elizabeth several times of judging him, but she replies,
I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you.
Tilly also judges herself harshly and tells herself in vain that Stewart's death was not her fault, though this is no more than the truth. She also feels guilt over Teddy's death, which she tried to prevent. Both works show that, while understanding is difficult but productive, judging is an easy substitute, but one that destroys lives and communities.