Discussion Topic

Responsibility and Blame for Deaths in "The Crucible"

Summary:

In "The Crucible," multiple characters share responsibility and blame for the deaths. Abigail Williams's lies and manipulations initiate the witch trials, while Judge Danforth and Reverend Parris perpetuate the hysteria through their rigid adherence to the court's decisions. Additionally, the townspeople's fear and willingness to accuse others contribute to the tragic outcomes.

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Who dies in The Crucible?

Many people die offstage in the play, but perhaps the most important death in The Crucible is that of John Proctor. His death is also his redemption because he refuses to make a relinquish his honor by falsely confessing.

Because of the manipulative lies that Abigail and the other girls tell, several characters in the play are investigated for practicing witchcraft. Early on, Mary Warren warns Abigail that their lies will hurt people and could lead to people’s deaths. She says,

Abby, we’ve got to tell. Witchery’s a hangin’ error, a hangin’ like they done in Boston two year ago! We must tell the truth, Abby!

However, Abigail will not back down from her lies, despite the lives that are at stake. Later in the play, Judge Danforth notes that “twelve are already hanged" for witchcraft, though he does not name everyone who has died. When he refuses to confess to witchcraft, Giles Corey is crushed to death, and Rebecca Nurse is sentenced to die along with John Proctor. However, the most dramatic death is, as noted, that of John Proctor.

Just before John is scheduled to be hanged, Elizabeth asks to speak with him. John asks his wife for forgiveness and also asks her whether he should falsely confess to witchcraft to save himself. However, when the officials ask him to sign a confession for them to publicize, he refuses tp publicly ruin his good name, even to save his life. The play ends as John leaves to be hanged.

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Who is responsible for the deaths of neighbors in The Crucible?

Giles Corey is one of the few characters in The Crucible who emerges with any credit to their name. A fundamentally decent, honest man, he works out pretty quickly that the whole witch-craze is nothing but mass hysteria based on lies and greed. More specifically, he knows that one of the main movers behind the witch-craze, Thomas Putnam, has been making false accusations of witchcraft against his neighbors just so he can get his grasping hands on their property.

Putnam knows full well that once someone has been hanged as a witch they have all their property seized and auctioned off at knock-down prices. He sees this as a great opportunity to acquire more and more land, thus making himself even richer than he already is.

Giles Corey plucks up the courage to come right out and make this accusation against Thomas Putnam in open court. He says that an honest man told him he'd heard Putnam say he was killing his neighbors for their land. Judge Danforth immediately demands that Corey reveal the identity of the informant, but he refuses to divulge this information.

And understandably so, because Corey's already got his wife into trouble with the authorities, albeit inadvertently, and he's seen what's happened to so many people for simply signing a petition. So he keeps his mouth shut. For that, he's arrested for contempt of court.

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Who is most responsible for the innocent deaths in Salem in The Crucible?

I agree with the previous commenter that Abigail Williams is, undoubtedly, the character most responsible for the deaths in the witch trials. However, I think one could make a good argument that Deputy Governor Danforth is, likewise, very responsible. She is the main accuser, but he is the one who gives legal weight to her accusations; she names names, but he believes her (or claims to). In Act Three, he tells Francis Nurse, "a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between . . ." Problematically, Danforth interprets people's fear of the court or any concern that the girls are dishonest as evidence that they could be working against the court. He believes that, if someone is innocent, then they have nothing to fear from the court, and we've already seen that this is flatly untrue.

Moreover, Danforth tells John Proctor, "We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment." Unfortunately, he is completely wrong here, too. The accusing girls are dissembling, led by the arch liar, Abigail, and her minion, Mercy Lewis. Danforth is so proud and so protective of his own authority and power that he cannot consider the possibility that he is being fooled by the children.

Speaking of pride, he also asks Corey, Proctor, and Nurse, "Do you know that near to four hundred are in the jails from Marblehead to Lynn, and upon my signature? . . . And seventy two condemned to die by that signature?"  He says this as though it were something to be proud of! The fact that he has condemned four hundred to jail and over seventy to death isn't something he should pride himself on. He can be proud of his experience, his education, and what have you, but to glory in the imprisonment and executions of individuals seems callous.

Then, he tests John Proctor's honesty in the court by publicly interviewing Elizabeth Proctor, his wife, and trusting in her honesty, as per his testimony that she does not lie. Rather than understand that his wife might lie in order to protect his reputation, Danforth takes her statement—that she only fired Abigail because she was displeased with the girl—as truth, and John's—that he had an affair with Abigail and that this is why Abigail lies now—as false. It's pretty ironic that he gets it wrong, considering his confidence in his own discernment.

In Act Four, we see that, though it is possible that the individuals scheduled to hang are innocent and that their hangings could cause a rebellion in the town, Danforth's primary concern is still his own authority. He says, 

I will not receive a single plea for pardon or postponement. Them that will not confess will hang. Twelve are already executed; the names of these seven are given out, and the village expects to see them die this morning. Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now. While I speak God's law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering. If retaliation is your fear, know this —I should hang ten thousand that dared to rise against the law, and an ocean of salt tears could not melt the resolution of the statutes.

Danforth cannot see anything but his own power. He will not consider doing anything that could reduce his power and authority, even if it is the better, the juster, thing to do. To say that he would rather hang thousands than listen to concerns about the corruption of the court says quite a bit. His concern for human life is small, if it exists at all; in this way, then, is he very responsible for the deaths in Salem. If he cared less about maintaining his power and more about finding the truth, the trials might have gone very differently.

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Who is most responsible for the innocent deaths in Salem in The Crucible?

While many different characters in Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible" pointed fingers at innocent other villagers, Abigail Williams is most responsible for the deaths which took place in the play. Although Abigail did not accuse all of those arrested and tried on witchcraft charges, she was the first character to "cry witch."

The hysteria that broke out in Salem, in the play, was all based upon the fact that Abigail could not face the fact that she had been caught by Reverend Parris dancing in the woods with Tituba. While not alone, there were many other girls with her, Abagail feared that the truth about her asking Tituba to create a potion to kill Goody Proctor would become common knowledge in the village. Abigail's name had already been soiled by Goody Proctor firing her after finding out about the affair between her husband (John Proctor) and Abigail. If it were to come out that Abigail had danced naked and drank blood in order to kill Goody Proctor her name would be even more blackened.

Therefore, in order to save herself, Abigail began the accusations by stating that Tituba was a witch. From there on out, the accusations began to fly. Not only did she name Tituba as a witch, Abigail named many other Salem women as witches as well.

While she was not responsible for all of the accusations, Abigail certainly put it into the minds of the other villagers that accusations would be taken very seriously by the courts. Therefore, Abigail Williams was (by far) the most responsible for the many deaths in Salem.

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In "The Crucible", who is blamed for the horrific event?

If one had to blame a single character in The Crucible for the horrific events in Salem, I would select Deputy-Governor Danforth. It is true that the witch-hunt begins in his absence. He clearly is not responsible for starting the crisis. Once the court is established, however, he is the primary figure of authority and he uses that authority to cause harm. In Act III, he tells Francis Nurse that four hundred people are in jail upon his signature, seventy-two of them condemned to hang. He seems curiously proud of this. In Act IV, he has already hanged twelve people and plans to kill more because:

Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now.

In other words, he will kill more people to avoid having to admit that he has been wrong. Danforth gives the appearance of respectability to the corrupt court and allows innocent people to be killed because of his cowardice and vanity.

The vast majority of the blame, however, must be apportioned not to a "who" but to a "what." Superstition is really to blame for the witch-hunt. Even an educated man like Hale regards it as sinful even to question the existence of witches. Even at the end of the play, when he realizes how destructive his involvement in the trials has been, Hale does not understand that his blind faith has led him to spend his life pursuing knowledge of a non-existent phenomenon, which is to say, the opposite of knowledge, something very much worse than pure ignorance. The people of Salem are both ignorant and superstitious. No particular harm comes of their ignorance alone. John Proctor does not know if there are witches in the world and this lack of knowledge causes no problem for anyone, though it scandalizes the superstitious Hale. It is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge which goes by the name of superstition that causes all the deaths in Salem.

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In "The Crucible", who is blamed for the horrific event?

No one individual is responsible for the terrifying witch-craze that descends upon Salem. This is an outbreak of mass hysteria, which, as the name implies, requires the active participation of many people, not just one or two individuals. That said, it's certainly possible to identify certain individuals as having greater moral responsibility than others for this appalling tragedy.

An obvious candidate would be Abigail Williams. She's the leading light in this whole unseemly fiasco, the one who more than anyone else pointed the finger of suspicion at people she knew full well were entirely innocent of witchcraft. It is Abigail who's the driving force behind the witch-craze, the evil genius ramping it up at every opportunity, irrespective of how many innocent lives she destroys.

But as well as sins of commission, there are also sins of omission, and a special mention in this regard needs to be made of Reverend Hale. Although he didn't start the fire, as it were, he had ample opportunity to stamp it out before it engulfed the whole town. He could've used his authority as a man of God and an expert on witches to nip this madness in the bud. But he didn't. Instead, he went along with the witch-craze until it was too late to stop it.

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In "The Crucible", who is blamed for the horrific event?

There are many potential answers to this question, in part, because it is difficult (if not impossible) to pin the blame on just one character. Abigail Williams would likely be a popular answer because she drank the charm to kill Elizabeth Proctor, accuses Elizabeth of witchcraft in order to resume her affair with Elizabeth's husband, and accuses a great many people of witchcraft. She first accuses Tituba, then Sarah Good, Goody Osburn, Bridge Bishop, Goody Sibber, Goody Hawkins, Goody Booth, and Elizabeth Proctor. Eventually she even accuses her one-time friend, Mary Warren. Abigail is selfish, vengeful, and murderous.

However, one might also blame the Putnams. After all, they admit in Act One that they sent their daughter, Ruth, to conjure the spirits of their dead babies with Tituba. Had they not enlisted Tituba's help, the girls might never have gone to the forest with her and been caught by Reverend Parris; Betty would not have panicked and become ill and Abigail would not have been questioned or have accused anyone else.

You might say that Reverend Parris is responsible for the play's events. He allowed himself to be egged on by Mr. Putnam to announce the witchcraft; he called Reverend Hale to town, inspiring more rumors and doubts; and he tried to sway the court via Deputy Governor Danforth, at every turn, prejudicing the magistrates against the people he does not like and insisting that they are corrupt.

One could also claim that Danforth himself is to blame. He represents the law at the colony of Massachusetts and he could have put down these accusations as meritless when he first arrived (or at any time after). However, he chooses to uphold his authority rather than the truth and permits the hanging of people he seems to realize are actually innocent. The trials add to his power.

Some might argue that Mr. Hale is the one responsible because he is so proud of his knowledge and books that he is rendered blind to the possibility of corruption in either the hearts of the accusers or the judges. He does not stand up to the court until it is too late.

In short, there are so many possible candidates that you could go in almost any direction and find someone who could be blamed for the tragic events.

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