In Arthur Miller's The Crucible, who is Reverend Parris?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In playwright Arthur Miller's parable about the Red Scare sweeping the United States during the early-1950s, The Crucible, Reverend Samuel Parris is a key figure insofar as his deeply flawed character and desperate need to be accepted in his community set the stage for the tragic events that follow -- events that closely mirrored actual events in Salem, Massachusetts in the late-17th century. Any discussion of Reverend Parris can best begin with Miller's own description of the character whose appearance in the play's opening scene sets the chain of events in motion:

"At the time of these events Parris was in his middle forties. In history he cut a villainous path, and there is very little good to be said for him. He believed he was being persecuted wherever he went, despite his best efforts to win people and God to his side. . . 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."

With this prologue to the opening of Scene I, Miller introduces the actors and director to the kind of personality essential for the evolution of such a bizarre and pathetic phase in American history while establishing this character's relationship to Senator Joseph McCarthy, one of the principal and seminal figures in the bleak period of modern American history that inspired The Crucible. Reverend Parris, as is quickly revealed in the play's opening scene, has spied his daughter, niece and housekeeper dancing naked in the woods in some sort of seemingly demonic ritual. Parris' efforts at protecting his reputation and his niece, Abigail's, equally desperate effort at concealing her own sins while striking back at the wife of her former, and much older, lover, John Proctor, are the events that lead directly to the witch trials that Miller used to illuminate the madness that had gripped post-World War II America as the fear of communism took hold of much of the nation's population.

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