What is Reverend Parris' significance to the themes in The Crucible?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Parris' significance in the drama is that he is the character who stands to benefit the most from the hysteria caused by the witch trials.  Parris is shown to be completely without a sense of moral righteousness.  This becomes significant to the themes of the drama as he is the town's religious source, but is also one of its most politically savvy individuals.  Miller uses Parris to show how the role of politics can dominate the lives of individuals and the manipulations of leaders can only serve to benefit their own interests.  Miller consistently shows Parris as beholden to the interests of how people will perceive him.  He advocates the witch trials when it will deflect criticism of  Betty's and Abigail's behavior in the woods and his own standing in the town.  When the hysteria around the accusations puts him square at the zenith of political power, he is the most fervent about his "cause" so long as it continues to embolden his standing.  When Act IV opens, Parris has suffered a decline in power and thus wants to show leniency to Proctor for his own benefit.  It is through Parris that Miller shows how politics can be a force to consolidate personal agendas and not necessarily be used for public good.  Miller construction of Parris' character leaving the town when it is evident that he has lost credibility is a thematic signal to how when people rise up against corrupt political leadership, change is possible.  In Parris, one sees Miller's own criticism of figures like McCarthy and in Parris' ending, one sees how the power of the public's voice in political affairs becomes necessary in the modern setting.