Expert Answers

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

The opening scene of the play reveals the austere religious atmosphere of Salem, the community's marginalization of young women, and the inciting incident that results in Betty's enigmatic affliction. It also characterizes Reverend Parris and his niece, Abigail Williams. The audience initially learns that Reverend Parris witnessed Abigail and several other girls dancing in the woods while Tituba spoke in her native language, which leads to Parris's assumption that the girls were involved in witchcraft. Reverend Parris is also characterized as an unpopular, selfish individual who is more concerned about his occupation and title than his daughter's well-being. He fears the community's negative reaction and wishes to quell the rumors concerning witchcraft before they spread.

The conversation between Reverend Parris and his niece also reveals how young women are marginalized in the austere society of Salem. Young women are expected to be obedient, quiet, morally-upright individuals who do not cause disruptions and act appropriately at all times. The audience also discovers that Abigail has negative feelings toward Elizabeth Proctor and possesses the willingness to avoid blame at all costs. With the arrival of the Putnams, the audience learns that there are unhappy community members who will enhance the hysteria, forcing Reverend Parris to call for Reverend Hale. Overall, the exposition portrays Salem's austere religious community, characterizes both Reverend Parris and Abigail Williams, provides information regarding the inciting incident, and reveals the antagonistic relationships between community members.

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

The opening scene of the play offers information about the strict code of conduct in Salem, especially regarding the occult, as well as developing the characters of Abigail and Reverend Parris. 

Abigail and Parris discuss (argue about) Abigail's tenuous position in Salem. She has a bad reputation after being fired by the Proctors. Now Abigail and Betty Parris and others have been caught doing something that looked like witchcraft in the woods at night. 

We learn that several of the teenage girls of Salem were caught dancing naked in the woods with Tituba, Parris’ slave from Barbados. The girls were discovered by Reverend Parris, who had seen Tituba “waving her arms over the fire” and had heard “a screeching and gibberish coming from her mouth.” (eNotes)

The potential scandal makes Parris fear for his own position in town. We learn that he also is not very popular in Salem. It is his top priority to maintain his position, however, and if he has to sever ties with Abigail he makes it clear that he will do so. 

Abigail plays upon his fears and demonstrates her ability to manipulate when she suggests that Parris is simply being stingy. She puts a fine point on the issue, saying:

"Do you begrudge my bed, uncle?"

Abigail's ability to dominate and manipulate others is further explored in the first act and proves to be a central element of the play. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial