What do we learn of Salem and three of its inhabitants in the opening part of the text? (Act One)

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What do we learn of Salem and three of its inhabitants in the opening part of the text? (Act One)

‘The Crucible’ sets the scene in seventeenth century Massachusetts, presenting Salem as the area inhabited by the Puritans, where Salem is established as a full theocracy, with religion in the forefront of the inhabitants’ daily lives. In particular, a few of the inhabitants of this isolated town highlight the problematic society that exists within the Salem community.

The overture of the text presents Salem as a place engulfed by extreme Puritanism, with the text suggesting that even the whole ‘European world the whole province (Salem) was a barbaric frontier inhabited by a sect of fanatics’, and this extreme turn of religion into a fully-fledged theocracy seems to be the case as the overture continues to describe how the town itself had ‘no novelists – and would not have permitted anyone to read’. The text explains how this is the case due to the fact that this extreme form of religion is imposed on every inhabitant, where not one single person would be able to experience any kind of ‘vain enjoyment’, even further suggesting that they ‘did not celebrate Christmas’. We learn that Salem’s governance by extreme religion means that even ‘a holiday from work meant that they must only concentrate…on prayer’. The land itself is explained as American land which had been taken away from Native Americans, and that Salem itself was formed the purpose of creating a safe haven for the Puritans to inhabit, and at the same time conveniently attempting to convert Native Americans to Puritanism. Those who did not convert and chose to remain outside Salem were regarded as living in a ‘virgin forest (which) was the Devil’s last preserve, his home base and the citadel of his final stand’.

The theocracy established in Salem is described as one in an extreme form, with the overture mentioning how ‘they and their church found it necessary to deny any other sect its freedom, lest their New Jerusalem be defiled and corrupted’, and that the society was formed and ‘united from top to bottom by a commonly held ideology’. The village itself is simple and bare, akin to Puritan beliefs, with the Reverend’s own house being one that has only ‘a chest, a chair, and a small table’ being some of the few furnishings in his house, and even the ‘wood colours… raw and unmellowed’, a reflection of the simplistic lifestyles that Puritans led in Salem. The text describes this as being the result of ‘self-denial’ and ‘their suspicion of vain pursuits’, again reflected by the inhabitants such as in the case of Reverend Parris and her niece Abigail, where Parris rebukes her for her admittance that she ‘did dance’, and therefore her ‘punishment [would] come in due time’.

The first Puritan inhabitants of Salem are described as those who ‘held in their steady hands the candle that would light the world’, yet the Salem in the setting of the text clearly states how society in Salem has moved on from its previous religious ideals; suspicion of each other and the beginning of land-lust and profiteering lie under the pretence of religion, when even a supposedly strict, rule-keeping society must rely on ‘a two-man patrol’ in order to ensure law and order, as ‘old disciplines were beginning to rankle’ with the emergence of people who began to ‘[mind] other people’s business… (which was) time honoured among the people of Salem’, and from this we see that the overture of the text itself states that there is a slow rise of tension in the small community of Salem as the text begins. The overture explains that whatever the reason was for the establishment of Salem, in the end Salem deteriorates into ‘a plane of heavenly combat’, with the previous ‘constant bickering’ finally being ‘elevated into the arena of morality’. This deterioration is marked by the fact that the overture claims how it became possible for ‘one to cry witch against one’s neighbour and feel perfectly justified’, and how in reality the accusations and mass hysteria on the basis of religion were only made for personal gain.

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The opening of the text presents the character of Reverend Samuel Parris, the text immediately makes clear that he is a man who had ‘cut a villainous path’, with ‘very little good to be said for him’. The text also mentions how there is an air of paranoia around him; Parris supposedly believes that ‘he was being persecuted wherever he went, despite his best efforts’. The combination of his Puritan beliefs also leads him to regard children as ‘young adults’, having ‘never conceived that the children were anything but thankful’ for the strict rules placed on them, and from this it ...

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