The Terror of Truth

In the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller, truth has no meaning when men believe only what they want to believe.  It is a historical play based on the events of the Salem witchcraft trials.  It takes place in a small Puritan village of Massachusetts in 1692.  This was a time of much hypocrisy. Many people believed anything they heard or saw.  As Miller explains in the introduction, the trials grew out of the moral system of the society, which promoted interference in others’ affairs as well as the society frowning on any child’s diversion from normal behavior.  There are people in the town that seem to disbelieve the truth of the matter of the trials.  The three men that portray this characteristic are Deputy Governor Danforth, Reverend Parris, and Thomas Putnam.

Deputy Governor Danforth believes what he wants to believe.  He approaches the witchcraft trials with a strict adherence to rules and laws that deny any sense of rationality. He questions anything anyone says to him as if it is a potential threat to both the power of the court and the integrity of the law.  He believes every accusation against someone, but when Mary Warren declares the accusations pretense, he doesn’t believe her.  She couldn’t prove it, so it was a lie to him.  In Act 4 Danforth says, “I cannot pardon these when twelve are already hanged for the same crime.  It is not just.”  He is killing people because some have already died for the same reason.  He wants to be fair, but he could just as well stop the killing.  He chooses to believe the people who show more “proof” than considering that the people he thinks are lying are actually the honest ones.  He believes that the pure in heart need no lawyers.

Reverend Parris knows the truth that Abigail is lying about the dancing and the witchcraft, but ignores it because it is in his own self interest.  He is terrified that he will be thrown out of Salem for having a witch for a daughter.  If he were to tell the court, he would be accused of withholding evidence or for trying to overthrow the court.  He felt that he was underpaid for his services. At one time he said to Giles Corey, “I regard that six pound as part of my salary…You will look far for a man of my kind at sixty pound a year!” Also, Parris preached for twenty weeks about having golden candlesticks on the altar until he got them.  He thinks that anything said against the court or church is an attempt to undermine both institutions.

Thomas Putnam used his land as a power source to get anything that he wanted. He also used this power to get his neighbors accused and/or convicted of being witches. This man alone got others to start believing that some people among them were witches.  He also used his daughter as a witness to some of his neighbors crimes. He was caught being greedy when Giles Corey announced, “My proof is there.  If Jacobs hangs for a witch he forfeit up his property–that’s law!  And there is none but Putnam with the coin to buy so great a piece.  This man is killing his neighbors for their land.”  He forces his way in whatever matters, which includes lying, benefit him and becomes extremely bitter when he doesn’t succeed.

Each man knew the truth, but they kept spreading lies.  The forces of good always tried to do what was best for everybody, even if it meant breaking Puritan laws. The evil group did whatever was best for them.  These three men have taken their actions selfishly and the people they talked to were persuaded to their opinions.  The good people were killed in this drama.  Throughout the book everybody in Salem wants the whole tragedy to end, but one way or another, the whole community had a way of making it continue.

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