What was Samuel Parris’s attitude toward children?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Reverend Parris is really not fit for children.  Miller makes this much clear in the opening act descriptions.  He describes Parris' attitude as reflective of most of Salem in articulating how children should act:

...like the rest of Salem, never conceived that the children were anything but thankful for being permitted to walk straight, eyes slightly lowered, arms at the sides, and mouths shut until bidden to speak.

Parris does not believe in the emotional or affective aspect of children and in this, he displays himself to be very lacking as a parent.  His exchange with Abigail in the first scene is reflective of this.  He never enquires as to why she did what she did, or why she was dismissed as a way to make her a better person or even to understand her.  Rather, he speaks to her about his own insecurities and his own stature amongst the townspeople.  There is little in his discussion with her that reflects a bond being forged.  No doubt Abigail is responsible for all the mischief and death that she caused with her lies and accusations.  Yet, part of this has to lie with Parris for he never really took care of her or nurtured her to a point where she was able to make peace with herself, the death of her parents, or the fact that she feels orphaned despite the communal setting of Salem.  Parris' attitudes towards children and his own failure as a parent to her is evident as he is unable to provide emotional guidance to her or prevent her from stealing from him at the end of the play and fleeing him and Salem.

missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Samuel Parris' attitude toward children is told to the audience in narration in the very beginning:

He was a widower with no interest in children, or talent with them. He regarded them as young adults, and until this strange crisis he, like the rest of Salem, never conceived that the children were anything but thankful for being permitted to walk straight, eyes slightly lowered, arms at the sides, and mouths shut until bidden to speak.

This description is rather revealing about his attitude. Part of his apathetic attitude toward children probably comes from the fact that he is a widower and without the role of a nurturing woman in the house, he resorts to what is often understood by men: action, not feeling.

He could have cared less about children and obviously wasn't very good with them. As the Puritan environment around him suggests, children were not meant for play, but for subservient behavior at the beckon call of the adults around them.

As the action and dialogue of the play finally begins, we learn that this attitude is true to Parris' nature. He is forceful with Abby and certainly judgmental. He also cares less for Betty's condition than he does his own reputation.

Miller uses both narration and the action of the play to display this poor attitude of Parris toward children.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Reverend Samuel Parris's attitude toward children is that they should be obedient and respectful and never do anything that will embarrass him or create a black mark on his reputation.

"He continues to follow public opinion right to the end of the play, when he insists that Proctor's confession must be made publicly in order for it to be effective."

When he catches the girls dancing in the woods and conjuring spirits, he is worried how the town will view the behavior of his niece, Abigail, his daughter, Betty and Tituba, his servant, not about their eternal salvation or that they are violating the code of behavior according to the Puritan belief system.

He is very worried about the fact that his daughter Betty is sick, Abigail tells him that the rumors of witchcraft are all over the village.  He says:

"And what shall I say to them? That my daughter and my niece were discovered dancing like heathen in the forest." (Miller)

"Now look you, child, your punishment will come in its time.  But if you trafficked with spirits in the forest I must know it now, for surely my enemies will, and they will ruin me with it." (Miller)

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As was mentioned in the previous posts, Parris believes that children should be obedient, silent, and respectful. He does not view them as equals and considers children subordinates. When he sees Abigail and the other girls dancing like "heathens" in the forest, he is shocked and disappointed. As was typical in Puritan society, the forest was certainly no place for children to be frolicking around, let alone dancing naked. Parris also believes that children are a reflection of their parents and guardians. He is horrified that Abigail and Betty's actions be made public because he fears his reputation will be ruined. Parris is also deeply concerned about Betty and Ruth's condition. Parris believes that children need to be protected and supervised because they are extremely susceptible to demonic influence. However, once Abigail's reputation is established as a noble person who has supernatural insight, Parris' opinion of children changes. He begins to view them as valuable, reputable individuals who do God's work. 

kcoleman2016 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Reverend Parris holds both traditional and atypical perspectives on children in the play The Crucible. Like many Puritans, he believes that children should be obedient, quiet, and respectful. This is evidenced many times in the play, such as when he tries to get Betty to follow his commands in the very first scene. 

He also, like many Puritans, believes that children are particularly susceptible to evil and corruption. He displays this mindset in such scenes as Abigail's confession and later when he accuses Mary Warren of lying in Act III. This belief reinforces the former perspective, because if children are indeed "good", then they can avoid evil. These two perspectives feed into one another. 

However, Reverend Parris, paradoxically, treats the children as if they were incredibly wise and respected. During the witch trials, the girls who are accusing their friends and family members of witchcraft are given many privileges, and their behavior and desires are accepted with little or no question.