The crucible – society’s boil
At first glance, Salem is a tranquil Puritan village nestled in the American wilderness. Hidden inside is the terrible monster of Mr. Hyde, waiting to be exhumed. It is a town where any form of deviation faces intolerance. Discipline and obedience are the tenets of society. Everyone adheres to the slogan: “In unity lay the best promise of safety” (5). After many years of festering suspicions, jealousy, and lust, the pus-filled boil burst; out oozes the drama of The Crucible. In a place where individual desires are infringed by the state, it is inevitable for such a society to self-destruct.
Since there is no outlet for personal resentments in Puritan society, grudges gradually become uncontrollable both for the individuals and society. The centerpiece of many of the accusations is the Putnam’s daughter, Ann. A coincidence? Perhaps, the Putnams have their own set of grudges. Mr. Putnam, being a very wealthy man, believes that he is graced by God to worldly success. However, he fails to raise his social standing by instating his brother-in-law as minister. However, in such a society, he can never express his feelings of persecution by his fellow villagers.
His only option to satiate his need for revenge is to cry witch, which ultimately destroys the theocracy of Salem. His wife also feels wronged by Salem. She is bitter by the deaths of her children. Mrs. Putnam believes the deaths of her children are caused by the “wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires” (28). Puritan society forces Mrs. Putnam to accept God’s fate for her children, but she wants a concrete reason, not faith. All these squabbles are situations where individuals, in order to assert their rights in an oppressive society, will cry witch.
These resentments provide the foundation for the hysteria of the witch trials, which eventually leads to the destruction the theocracy of Salem. In Puritan society, women still bear the sins of Eve. They are at the lowest run of the social ladder, because of this oppression; women will try to assert their power. Once a group realizes that they are oppressed, rebellion is the only result. Abigail Williams has held no power, no standing, and no rights within the town. Abby first sees an opportunity in the trials that is a chance for revenge on the wife of the man she loves and on a cruel and gossiping community she abhors.
Throughout the witch trials, even the submissive Mary Warren is drunk with power. Mary even dares to oppose her employer, “I’ll not be ordered to bed no more, Mr. Proctor! ” I am eighteen and a woman, however single” (60). She amazes herself with the power she can hold when she points a finger towards the accused. Here young women, usually powerless in Puritan society, find the ability to grant life or death, and what springs from a want for revenge becomes a frightening lust for power. Their love of this new found power discourages them to stop the hysteria.
The oppression of women produces a hunger for power; this hunger perpetuates the destruction of Salem. The community that has a “predilection for minding other people’s business,” but once sin is found, the individual has no option to repent (15). Sins, then, are hidden, the problems left unsolved. John Proctor has expressed penitence for his infidelity and asked for forgiveness, yet there is no sense of catharsis within his neither marriage nor ability for full resolution. “I cannot speak but I am doubted, every moment judged for lies.
(55)” John’s conversation with his wife, it is saturated with accusations and to both Proctor and Elizabeth, a burden. The Proctor marriage is therefore stagnant and stifling. Miller indicates that, like the rest of their Puritan society, the Proctors need an outlet to purge John’s sins, and without this means for redemption, they are committed to a perpetual obsession with the husband’s infidelity. As these concealed sins and guilt gradually build up, one becomes frustrated with such a rigid society.
The theocracy does satisfy anyone, for no human is perfect, so therefore change must occur. In due course, these sins will reappear, demanding resolution, which Puritan society does not provide. The witch-trials provide people with an instrument to state their sins, relieving their guilt, while carrying out the Lord’s mission. The result is mass hysteria. These repressed sins cause the destruction of Puritan society. Such a tightly knit society is doomed once slight breach occurs in its defenses.
This kind of extreme order generates it own undermining diseases. As these problems slowly build up, it is only inevitable for a coup. The Puritan religion is the dam that holds in these festering jealousies, hatred, and sins. The slightest hole becomes an outlet for individuals and pent-up passions. Such a rigid state is open to all forms of betrayals and accusations. Every single person can wreak his own personal vengeance on his neighbor. In the end, Puritan society fails the crucible.