What is a theme in Act I, Scene 1 of Arthur Miller's The Crucible? 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The fear of "the other" is one of the dominant themes in Act I, Scene 1 of The Crucible.

"The other" can be defined as anything different.  In his extensive stage directions, Miller suggests that the residents of Salem possessed a strong fear of this other. Miller explores this theme in several ways.  One way is in his suggestion that the people of Salem believed their lives should exist only for religious expression:

No one can really know what their lives were like. They had no novelists - and would not have permitted anyone to read a novel if one were handy. Their creed forbade anything re-sembling a theater or “vain enjoyment.” They did not celebrate Christmas, and a holiday from work meant only that they must concentrate even more upon prayer. 

Salemites' clutching to religion meant that anything outside of its jurisdiction was transgression and evil.  The fear of "the other" caused the people of Salem to always pay attention to what other people did. People in Salem clung to conformity as the only weapon against "the other": "But, as in all such matters, the issue was not clear-cut, for danger was still a possibility, and in unity still lay the best promise of safety."  People in Salem took sanctuary in conformity as a defense against anything believed to be different.  

This fear compelled the people of Salem to focus on what other people said and did.  Miller argues that the preoccupation with others was out of fear that they were doing something that the community did not sanction: "This predilection for minding other people’s business was time-honored among the people of Salem, and it undoubtedly created many of the suspicions which were to feed the coming madness." Miller suggests that the fear of the other was what caused Salemites to focus on what other people said and did.  He also believes that it played a significant role in the hysteria behind the trials.  To be accused of being a witch meant that a person was "different" and had broken from the community's expectation of spirituality.  

This theme is established in the play's opening scene.  It is evident in how Parris is worried about what others will say about him regarding the girls' actions in the woods.  It is also seen in how the girls launch into their accusations and how the townspeople respond.  The fear of "the other" theme introduced in the first scene of the first act is a significant theme throughout the drama.