What are the dangers of ideologies in The Crucible by Arthur Miller?

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The danger of ideologies in this text, as in life, is that people adhere to them rigidly and refuse to entertain ideas that contradict or undermine the ideas to which they already hold. For example, Deputy Governor Danforth adheres to his ideology of strict authoritarianism even when it becomes clear to everyone else that he has been mistaken in his estimation both of the accusing girls and in the guilt of the accused. In act 4, he explains why he will neither pardon the convicted nor postpone the scheduled hangings, saying:

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.

His ideology tells him that maintaining his authority and continuing to appear strong and certain in the law is the most important thing he can do; never mind the fact that several innocent people could die as a result or that almost everyone else is united against his feelings. Danforth makes it clear that the death of others, even thousands of others, is nowhere near as important to him as maintaining his authority and power within the community. This kind of failure to recognize the human collateral of such a choice is the danger of ideology.

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Arthur Miller depicts how religious ideologies concerning a strict adherence to the Bible, unwavering obedience to elected authority figures, and oppressive gender roles contribute to the unhinged hysteria surrounding the witch trials, which result in the deaths of numerous innocent citizens. Salem's authority figures are products of a theocracy and believe they were selected by God to do his bidding on earth. Characters like Deputy Governor Danforth, Judge Hathorne, and Reverend Parris are portrayed as callous, selfish authority figures, who are obsessed with power and wish to remain in exalted positions. The prominent ideology in the austere, religious community encourages blind obedience towards authority figures, which contributes to the witch trials as citizens automatically support the court's decisions.

The ideology regarding adherence to Biblical principles also plays a significant role in the witch trials. The citizens genuinely believed in evil spirits, the devil's power, and malevolent witches. Anyone without a sound knowledge of the Bible or a perfect reputation is viewed with suspicion. When John Proctor does not recall each of the Ten Commandments, Reverend Hale says, "Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small" (Miller, 67).

Reverend Hale's comment best describes the community's attitude towards upholding Biblical principles. Since citizens were not able to openly expresses their grievances out of fear that they would tarnish their reputations, resentment builds in the community and many feuds are played out in the corrupt court.

The community's ideologies regarding gender roles are also dangerous and motivate Abigail and her followers to continue acting as officials of the court. In the Puritan community, young women were oppressed and expected to remain quiet and meek, which is in accordance with the Puritan perspective of the Bible. Once Abigail Williams and her followers gain popularity and attain a revered status, they continue to falsely accuse innocent citizens in order to maintain their positions of authority.

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Ideologies play an important role in The Crucible.

The characters possessing ideologies, or a set of beliefs that influence decision making, use them to control others and consolidate their own power in Salem. For example, Hathorne and Danforth represent an authoritarian ideology.  They believe that their power should be unquestioned.  They demonstrate this power in the way they summon people to the trials and insist that names are given and that those accused accept their wrongdoing. This authoritarian ideology prevents accepting any conclusion that might challenge their power.  

Another example of the danger of ideologies can be seen in Abigail.  An ideology of emotional manipulation motivates her.  Abigail seeks to increase her power over people in the town.  She does this through deceit and by playing people against one another.  For example, Abigail creates the fear of witches to distract from how she covets John Proctor.  Abigail continues this when she sees that naming names increases her importance in the town.  She uses the ideology of emotional manipulation to consolidate power over the town.  Her ideology proves to be extremely dangerous.

Ideologies motivate Danforth, Hathorne, and Abigail. Others, such as the Putnams and Abigail's friends, follow their example. Ideologies are dangerous in The Crucible because they serve to justify unreasonable control and power over others.

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