What do the people of Salem lose and gain from "witch hunting"?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On one hand, the people of Salem gain the temporary comfort from believing that their participation in the witch hunts actually removes the presence of evil from the town.  In his extensive stage directions at the outset of Act I, Miller brings this out in his character sketch of Salem.  He talks about a time that believes that it possesses the candle with which it can "light the world."  In the short term, the people of Salem believe that in the witch hunts, this candle is enhanced and its belief strengthened in the idea that "God's will" has been served.  At the same time, some members of the community immediately benefit from the targeting of others.  Consider the case of Thomas Putnam as an example.  Putnam recognizes early the profitable nature of the witch hunts.  He recognizes that those accused of witchcraft will have to sell their land at a low price, enabling him to strengthen his hold on the land situation in Salem.  I think that Salem recognizes it lost much in way of freedom as a result of the trials.  The last act brings this out as discussion of the rebellion in Andover and how this is simmering in Salem reflects this.  The citizens of Salem recognize how they have been manipulated and the fraudulent nature of the trials when Abigail runs away and steals Parris' money.  In his closing, "Echoes Down the Corridor," Miller makes it clear that the town ends up losing faith in the idea that religious zeal can guide government, representing one of the elements of spirituality lost in the process.  It is here where one sees exactly what was lost in the pursuit of the witch hunts in Salem for the people of Salem.