In The Crucible, why had the settlers begun to turn toward individualism?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Miller brings out an interesting reason as to why the people of Salem had become more individualistic.  In the extensive Act I stage directions, Miller contrasts Salem with its colonial counterpart of Jamestown.  Whereas Salem was more animated by theology, Miller suggests that Jamestown was motivated by economic prosperity.  This desire for material wealth helped to create a singular focus of self- interest in the new world.  At the same time, Miller shares that the English crown had revoked land charters in Salem.  This helped to feed the individualistic and unhealthy lack of community in the setting.  It is for this reason that people like Putnam are so motivated by wealth and by consolidating power, a tendency seen in Parris, Danforth, and Abigail.  It seems that the individualistic condition present with materialism in Virginia as well as the fear of losing one's own holdings in Salem colluded to create a sense whereby individuals sought greater hold on what they had, perceiving their neighbors as a threat and in the process, making it easier to create such conditions whereby the accusations of witchcraft could fly with relative ease.