Why are the cows wandering in the streets in The Crucible in Act 4?
Some time has passed between the end of Act 3 and the beginning of Act 4. In Act 4, it is now Fall. The court proceedings have continued during this time and executions have been scheduled. The town of Salem is completely preoccupied with the court proceedings. Many people have been charged, arrested, and/or convicted of witchcraft. The hysteria has reached its peak. With so many people in jail (namely farmers), there are farms left unattended. Cheever informs Danforth that the cows are wandering the streets because so many of their masters (farmers) are in jail. Parris has to argue with the farmers because they are fighting over the wandering cows. The town is in chaos. Consequently, Parris fears that the people will rebel against the court. There have been similar trials and accusations of witchcraft in the neighboring town of Andover. And the townspeople there have rebelled against the court. Parris warns Danforth and Hathorne that a rebellion is just as likely in Salem but they ignore him. With cows wandering the streets and the town in chaos, the threat of rebellion becomes more real. But the authorities are too stubborn to realize this.