What does Hale mean when he says, "The Devil is alive in Salem, and we dare not quail to follow wherever the accusing finger points!"?

Quick answer:

Hale's statement, "The Devil is alive in Salem, and we dare not quail to follow wherever the accusing finger points!" signifies his belief that the Devil's influence is present and potent in Salem, and no individual, regardless of their social standing or reputation, is immune to suspicion. He insists that they must not shrink from investigating anyone accused of witchcraft, demonstrating the pervasive fear and paranoia that fuels the Salem witch trials.

Expert Answers

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In act 2, Francis Nurse fanatically tells Reverend Hale that Salem's court has made a drastic mistake by arresting his wife and Martha Corey. Both Rebecca Nurse and Martha Corey are respected, morally-upright citizens, and they are known throughout the community as honorable Christians. Hale initially responds by telling Francis to remain calm and have faith in the court, which only frustrates him further. Hale then attempts to elaborate on why the women should be investigated by telling Francis,

I have seen too many frightful proofs in court—the Devil is alive in Salem, and we dare not quail to follow wherever the accusing finger points! (Miller 71).

Reverend Hale is saying that the Devil is a deceitful, perplexing being who is alive and active in Salem's community. He goes on to say that Salem's court and its officials must not falter and act timid whenever someone of importance and good standing is accused. Reverend Hale essentially means that no one is above suspicion. Despite Rebecca Nurse's and Martha Corey's stellar reputations, Hale believes that they should be investigated because the Devil is a "wily one" and could have possibly used them to further his wicked agenda.

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What this passage means is that Hale wants to investigate anyone who is accused of witchcraft, no matter who they are.

To "quail" means to shrink back in fear.  In this case, he is saying that they must not be afraid to investigate wherever they see evidence (the accusing finger) of witchcraft.

Hale says this when two respectable citizens, Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse, are accused of being witches.  When their husbands try to argue, he shuts them down with the quote you cited.

It is because of this sort of attitude that Hale is instrumental in bringing about the trials.

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