What are some social issues in The Crucible?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Religion is brought up as a social issue in The Crucible . The play's society is governed by religion, and those accused of being witches are seen as dealing with the devil, and told to turn back to God. No one is not allowed to be an atheist or non...

Get
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Religion is brought up as a social issue in The Crucible. The play's society is governed by religion, and those accused of being witches are seen as dealing with the devil, and told to turn back to God. No one is not allowed to be an atheist or non believer. This is used to manipulate Tituba into naming others as witches:

Hale: You would be a good Christian woman, would you not, Tituba?

Tituba: Aye, sir, a good Christian woman.

Hale: And you love these little children?

Tituba: Oh, yes, sir, I don’t desire to hurt little children.

Hale: And you love God, Tituba?

Tituba: I love God with all my bein’.

Hale: Now, in God’s holy name -

Tituba: Bless Him. Bless Him. (She is rocking on her knees, sobbing in terror.)

Hale: And to His glory -

Tituba: Eternal glory. Bless Him - bless God...

Hale: Open yourself, Tituba - open yourself and let, God’s holy light shine on you.

Tituba: Oh, bless the Lord.

Religious knowledge is also used as a test to determine whether one is innocent or a witch. Mary Warren tells us that Goody Osborne was not able to recite the Ten Commandments in court. When Hale visits the Proctors, he also asks John to recite them. John's feud with Reverend Parris paints him as not very religious. This makes us wonder, what determines the depth of one's faith? Is it about attending church weekly, or is praying on one's own satisfactory?

Hale: Twenty-six time in seventeen month, sir. I must call that rare. Will you tell me why you are so absent?

Proctor: Mr. Hale, I never knew I must account to that man for I come to church or stay at home. My wife were sick this winter.

Hale: So I am told. But you. Mister, why could you not come alone?

Proctor: I surely did come when I could, and when I could not I prayed in this house.

Hale: Mr. Proctor, your house is not a church; your theology must tell you that.

Proctor: It does, sir, it does; and it tells me that a minister may pray to God without golden candlesticks upon the altar.

John looks bad because he is not always present in church. But John brings up the point of the golden candlesticks; Parris seems more concerned with money and fine things than the simplicity of the word of God. He says of Parris:

"I labor the earth from dawn of day to blink of night, and I tell you true, when I look to heaven and see my money glaring at his elbows - it hurt my prayer, sir, it hurt my prayer."

The Proctors' third child is not baptized because John does not want Parris touching his child: "I see no light of God in that man. I’ll not conceal it." Hale, however, brings up that Parris is ordained and therefore holy. John is our protagonist, and the play seems to paint him as a better Christian than Parris.

Those found guilty of witchcraft will be hanged unless they confess their crime and repent. Given that there is no witchcraft, the "confession" is a lie. Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor refuse to lie or name others in order to save themselves. Rebecca says, "Let you fear nothing! Another judgment waits us all!"

The religious issues brought up in the play make us question what it means to be a good person, or a good Christian. Institutionalized religion is pitted against an individual's faith. We see how religion can govern a society and influence its rules.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the social issues affecting the Salem community is gender inequality. Women, particularly young females, are marginalized in the highly patriarchal Puritan society. Young females are expected to be obedient, quiet, soft-spoken members of the community, who have no authority and are assigned strict gender roles. One could argue that Abigail and her followers are motivated to continue falsely accusing innocent citizens of witchcraft because Salem's court offers them a rare opportunity to wield authority and gain recognition from their community members.

Corruption is another social issue affecting Salem's community throughout the play. Judge Hathorne and Deputy Governor Danforth refuse to reverse their rulings and continue arresting innocent citizens because they do not want to appear weak or indecisive. Despite the evidence against Abigail and her followers, both court officials refuse to relinquish their authority and continue unjustly sentencing innocent citizens. Any citizen who questions their rulings or procedures is deemed an enemy of the court and arrested. Both Giles Corey and John Proctor end up losing their lives because they refuse to capitulate with the court officials and attempt to expose its corrupt nature. Corrupt citizens like Thomas Putnam also manipulate the court system by using the witch trials as a way to increase their wealth, while Reverend Parris uses the trials to ensure his position of authority in the community.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One major social issue evident in The Crucible is the racism that makes Tituba such an easy target. Despite the fact that Reverend Parris doubts the spotlessness of Abigail's reputation, especially given the rumor that Goody Proctor called her "soiled," as well as the fact that he has known Abigail to laugh during prayer, and so on, she is believed the moment she names Tituba as the witch who tempted her to conjure spirits in the forest. Because Tituba is a slave from Barbados, everyone immediately believes Abigail's accusations.

Another issue is class: Sarah Good is a beggar, and so she is likewise an easy target for the girls' accusations. When she is accused, it is no trouble for others to believe that she is guilty. Then, when she is caught in a lie about saying her commandments, she ends up confessing to witchcraft, likely understanding—after the conviction of Goody Osburn—that she will never escape a guilty verdict.  

Further, social posturing and community politics present another issue. The Putnams have supported Reverend Parris and his position in the community, though they are angry that other candidates were initially selected over their own: now, Giles Corey and John Proctor deny him the deed to the house and they squabble with him over his salary and entitlement to firewood. The Nurses conflict with the Putnams, as do Corey and Proctor; grudges go back a long way, and they all seem to have long memories.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are a great many social issues in this play, and because the play is a metaphorical expression of McCarthyism, the social issues can be interpreted through the lens of two eras: the 1950s, and the late seventeenth century. Social issues such as sexism, religious fanaticism, corruption in the church, feudalism, and problems with the legal and justice system, which was newly created for the early colonists, all were part of the situation in Salem Village that led to the execution of a number of innocent people for witchcraft. Perhaps one of the most significant social issues was that of class division, which caused tension between the wealthy merchant class and the poor farmers whose devotion to Puritan beliefs made the accumulation of wealth a source of conflict.

Part of Miller's purpose in using this historical context to explore the current political situation was to show that McCarthy's tactics and the paranoia and manipulation surrounding the hearings were not only similar to the Salem Witch Trials, but also to portray the timeless quality that such dark chapters of human history possess. In other words, the social issues in the play are issues that were pertinent in 1692, but that take on another level of significance when one considers the events of the early 1950s in the United States. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team