In The Crucible by Arthur Miller, what is the role of gossip in the trials?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible presents the Salem Witch Trials as its subject.  The time period found extreme religious beliefs as the ruling force. The devil lived in Massachusetts around every tree and corner.  Fear gained control of the minds and hearts of the citizens of Salem as well as the authorities.  Logic and reasoning took a back seat to rumors, gossip, and lies.

Miller’s dramatic license came from his combining characters to have a manageable cast for the stage. The events for the most part are true along with the names of the characters.

Accusations were often based on what one person told another and the gossip that resulted.  An example of the impact of gossip and rumors can be found in the accusing of Sarah Good.  She was one of the first three women said to be witches.  Sarah mumbled when she responded to people.  As a beggar, Sarah would ask for charity and respond by talking under her breath. Rumors followed saying that she was uttering curses against the people.

Rumors were flying throughout the community.  Giles Corey stated that he has heard that Abigail and Betty flew when they were under a spell.  He also stated that his wife read too much which the basis for her imprisonment as a witch.

Corey: Martha, my wife, I have waked at night many times and found her in a corner, readin’of a book.  Now what do you make of that? It discomfits me! Last night—mark this—I tried and tried and could not say my prayers.  And then she close her book and walks out of the house, and suddenly—mark this—I could pray again!

Ann Putnam’s jealousy of Rebecca Nurse and her many children creates the circumstances for Nurse being accused.  Nurse said what she felt and was inclined to state that Ann’s daughter Ruth was only acting a part. This assured Rebecca pointed to as using witchery.

The children and their ability to twist the truth cast dispersions on many of the people who were placed in prison for witchcraft. Their trances and fits were planned to set up particular people to be charged.  The initial incident of the girls in the woods with Tituba was discussed and the rumors and gossip spread throughout the community. 

During the year of 1692, the cold winter left the children searching for something to occupy their times.  Tituba began to teach Betty Parris and her cousin Abigail palmistry which was fortune telling.  This led to the dancing in the forest.  The girls began to act strangely and the local doctor had no explanation for their actions.  That is when the rumors and gossip led to the assumption that the girls were under the spell of the devil and witches like Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne.

The continued accusations relied on intangible evidence like the girls’ reactions to people, strange occurrences, and the pointing of fingers based on previous problems.  When the town began to talk about witchcraft, no one was safe from being accused.