Why does Parris support the witch trials?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mr. Putnam tells Reverend Parris,

[...] I have taken your part in all contention here, and I would continue; but I cannot if you hold back in this. There are hurtful, vengeful spirits layin' hands on these children.

Parris is very concerned about his "enemies" and the "faction" in his...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Mr. Putnam tells Reverend Parris,

[...] I have taken your part in all contention here, and I would continue; but I cannot if you hold back in this. There are hurtful, vengeful spirits layin' hands on these children.

Parris is very concerned about his "enemies" and the "faction" in his congregation that he believes to be working against him. Putnam is a powerful ally, especially when Parris feels that he has so few, and Putnam says that he can no longer take Parris's part unless Parris sees fit to act against the threat of witches. First, the fact that Putnam seems so convinced may actually sway Parris, and, second, that Putnam will abandon Parris to his perceived enemies might also compel Parris to back the witch hunt.

Further, when Parris begins to panic that his daughter and niece will be accused of taking some part in witchcraft, Putnam tells him,

You are not undone! Let you take hold here. Wait for no one to charge you -- declare it yourself.

In other words, rather than wait to be accused, Parris himself could begin the accusations, and this would protect him. He will be seen as tough and brave rather than suspect. If he points the finger, then any who attempt to point a finger at him would seem guilty themselves. Leading the witch hunt is a good way to protect himself because he can align himself with the righteous and powerful rather than the guilty and powerless.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Reverend Parris is an authority figure in Salem who is worried about a faction of influential citizens removing him from his position of power. At the beginning of the play, Reverend Parris believes that the community will remove him from office when they discover that his niece and her friends were dancing in the wilderness. However, Abigail Williams blames Tituba, and the witchcraft hysteria quickly spreads through the community as she continues to falsely accuse innocent citizens of witchcraft. Once Reverend Parris witnesses Abigail's influence on the community and the other Salem authority figures, he aligns himself with the powerful court and stands opposed to anyone challenging them. Parris has faith that the court and its officials will prevent the faction of disgruntled citizens from removing him from office. He becomes a vehement enemy of John Proctor until he realizes that Proctor's death will spark a rebellion.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Parris is made to understand from a very early point in the drama that he can use the trials to consolidate his own power in the town.  It is evident from the earliest moments that Parris is insecure about his position in the town.  Miller's stage directions help to bring out a vision of an individual that is constantly paranoid of others and sees everyone as a threat.  In this, the witch trials give him an issue upon which he can latch.  Parris recognizes that in making the fear of witches an issue, he can benefit.  He uses and supports the witch trials because it enables him to consolidate his power over the town.  People look to him as an authority figure, above and beyond reproach during the trials because of the fear of witches.  In this, Parris recognizes early on the political benefit of the trial.  It is for this reason that Parris supports the trials because it will distract from the real and substantive issues that plague Salem and could threaten to undermine his own authority.  Rather, he is able to enjoy the trappings of power as long as everyone in the town is living in constant fear and paranoia of witches.  For this reason, Parris supports the witch trials.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team