The Reverend Samuel Parris prays over his daughter, who lies stricken with a nameless malady. As he prays, he is angered by the interruption of his Negro slave, Tituba, whom he brought with him from the island of Barbados. Parris is frightened and furious, for he discovered his daughter Betty, Tituba, and some of the village girls dancing in the woods. Now two of the girls, Betty and Ruth Putnam, are ill, and witchcraft is rumored about the village. His daughter Betty and his ward and niece, Abigail Williams, were been participants in a secret and sinful act. Parris feels his position as minister to the community of Salem is threatened. Moreover, he suspects that more than dancing took place.
The frightened Parris sends for the Reverend John Hale, a reputed scholar familiar with the manifestations of witchcraft. While waiting for Hale to arrive, the parishioners reveal the petty grievances and jealousies hidden beneath the veneer of piety of the Puritan community. Parris feels that the community failed to meet its financial obligations to him. He suspects John Proctor, a respected farmer, of undermining his authority. Proctor resents Parris for preaching of nothing but hellfire and the money owed to the parish. Thomas Putnam, a grasping landholder, disputes the boundaries of his neighbors’ farms. Ann Putnam lost seven babies at childbirth, and she suspects witchcraft of mothers with large families, most especially Rebecca Nurse, who has eleven healthy children.
Amid this discontent, the learned Hale arrives with his books of weighty wisdom. Under Hale’s close questioning concerning the girls’ illicit activities in the woods, Abigail turns the blame away from herself by accusing Tituba of witchcraft. Terrified by the threat of hanging, Tituba confesses to conjuring up the devil. Putnam asks Tituba if she saw the old beggar Sarah Good or Goodwife Osborne with the devil. Sensing her survival at stake, Tituba names both women as companions of the...
(The entire section is 807 words.)