What role did fear play in creating authority?  How did some people choose to resist authority?  Who are they and what form did their resistance take?  How successful were they and why?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fear and authority occupy vital roles in The Crucible.

Fear was critical in the establishment of authority.  Reverend Parris comes to understand that if he is able to manipulate the paranoia of witchcraft washing over the town, he can gain more power.  People will look at him as a source of power because of their fear.  Danforth and Hathorne run their court in an authoritative manner that uses panic to their own benefit.  While they consistently remind the public that they have nothing to worry about, it is clear that if people say the wrong thing, the shadow of accusation falls upon them.  Authority benefits from the social fear of witches.  It is for this reason that the Abigail and her girls are able to experience so much power.  They know that the terror of witchcraft accusations intimidate most into silence.  The power structures take their cue from this paradigm throughout the narrative.

There are some individuals who resist authority.  Giles Corey is one such example.  He does not acquiesce to the court and to the fear that it is creating.  His defiance is evident until the very end when he insists on "more weight" in terms of the stones pressing him to death.  Proctor is a more reluctant force of resistance.  However, it takes form when when he openly challenges the court and then later rescinds his confession. He would rather live with the ugliness of the truth than be part of the lie that the authority in Salem has constructed.  Elizabeth shows hostility to authority when she refuses to "take" Proctor's "goodness" from him.  She realizes that he is going to die.  However, she understands that Proctor's "goodness" is his rejection of an unjust authority.  Even Sarah Good, unfairly accused and facing death, shows a sense of refusal to authority's will.  It takes the form of not being scared.  When she is facing death, she calls out to Tituba, "Tell him I’m goin’, Tituba! Now you tell him Sarah Good is goin’ too!" as a way to show how authority does not control her.  She is responsive to something more transcendent. 

Miller suggests that our metric for success regarding resistance has to be divergent.  Indeed, none who challenge the authority structure are able to change the injustice that results.  Proctor, Giles Corey, Sarah Good all die, while Elizabeth watches her husband marched to the gallows.  However, the act of resistance becomes its own good.  Miller suggests that there is something noble about individuals who stand up against an unfair authority that seeks to control others through fear.  In the end, the power structure dissolves.  Hathorne and Danforth become associated with a corrupt trial.  Parris loses his power.  Abigail runs away and becomes a prostitute in Boston.  At the same time, Proctor becomes a symbol of goodness that towers above all else.  Giles Corey acquires heroic proportions as a result of his resistance.  The ending of the drama lionizes the people who stand up over those who capitulate to authority our of fear.