The Crucible – Act I: The entrance of Reverend Hale to the closing scene

Summary

I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw
Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!
(See Important Quotations Explained)

Reverend Hale is an intellectual man, and he has studied
witchcraft extensively. He arrives at Parris’s home with a heavy
load of books. Hale asks Proctor and Giles if they have afflicted
children. Giles says that Proctor does not believe in witches. Proctor
denies having stated an opinion on witches at all and leaves Hale
to his work.
Parris relates the tale of finding the girls dancing in
the forest at night, and Mrs. Putnam reports having sent her daughter
to conjure the spirits of her dead children. She asks if losing
seven children before they live a day is a natural occurrence. Hale
consults his books while Rebecca announces that she is too old to
sit in on the proceedings. Parris insists that they may find the
source of all the community’s troubles, but she leaves anyway.
Giles asks Hale what reading strange books means because
he often finds his wife, Martha, reading books. The night before,
he tried to pray but found that he could not succeed until Martha closed
her book and left the house. (Giles has a bad reputation in Salem,
and people generally blame him for thefts and random fires. He cares
little for public opinion, and he only began attending church regularly
after he married Martha. Giles does not mention that he only recently
learned any prayers and that even small distractions cause him problems
in reciting them.) Hale thoughtfully considers the information and
concludes that they will have to discuss the matter later. Slightly
taken aback, Giles states that he does not mean to say that his
wife is a witch. He just wants to know what she reads and why she
hides the books from him.
Hale questions Abigail about the dancing in the forest,
but Abigail maintains that the dancing was not connected to witchcraft.
Parris hesitantly adds that he saw a kettle in the grass when he
caught the girls at their dancing. Abigail claims that it contained
soup, but Parris insists that he saw something moving in it. Abigail
says that a frog jumped in. Under severe questioning, she insists
that she did not call the devil but that Tituba did. She denies
drinking any of the brew in the kettle, but when the men bring Tituba
to the room, Abigail points at her and announces that Tituba made
her drink blood. Tituba tells Parris and Hale that Abigail begged
her to conjure and concoct a charm.
Tituba insists that someone else is bewitching the children because
the devil has many witches in his service. Hale counsels her to
open herself to God’s glory, and he asks if she has ever seen someone
that she knows from Salem with the devil. Putnam suggests Sarah
Good or Goody Osburn, two local outcasts. In a rising tide of religious
exultation, Tituba says that she saw four people with the devil.
She informs Parris that the devil told her many times to kill him
in his sleep, but she refused even though the devil promised to grant
her freedom and send her back to her native Barbados in return for
her obedience. She recounts that the devil told her that he even
had white people in his power and that he showed her Sarah Good
and Goody Osburn. Mrs. Putnam declares that Tituba’s story makes
sense because Goody Osburn midwifed three of her ill-fated births.
Abigail adds Bridget Bishop’s name to the list of the accused. Betty
rises from the bed and chants more names. The scene closes as Abigail
and Betty, in feverish ecstasy, alternate in piling up names on the
growing list. Hale calls for the marshal to bring irons to arrest the
accused witches.
Analysis
In a theocracy, part of the state’s role is policing belief.
Therefore, there is a good deal of pressure on the average citizen
to inform on the blasphemous speech of his or her neighbors in the
name of Christian duty. Giles’s claim to Hale that Proctor does
not believe in witches does not necessarily arise out of a desire
to do his Christian duty—he may only be making a joke. However,
the very offhand nature of his statement indicates that reporting
a neighbor’s heretical words or thoughts is a deeply ingrained behavior
in Salem.
Rebecca, a figure of respectability and good sense, fears
that an investigation into witchcraft will only increase division
within the Salem community. Parris’s declaration that a thorough
investigation could get at the root of all the community’s problems
proves accurate, though not in the way that he foresees. The witch
trials do bring out all of the community’s problems, but in the
worst possible way. The specter of witchcraft allows citizens to
blame political failures, the deaths of children, and land squabbles
on supernatural influences. No one has to accept individual responsibility
for any of the conflicts that divide the community or confront any
of his or her personal issues with other individuals because everyone
can simply say, “The devil made me do it.”
Reverend Hale’s reaction to Giles’s story about Martha
reveals the dangerous implications of a zealous witch-hunt. Ordinarily, reading
books not related to the Bible would be considered an immoral use
of one’s time, but it certainly would not be interpreted as evidence
of witchcraft. But with Hale present and the scent of witchcraft
in the air, the slightest unorthodox behavior automatically makes
someone suspect.
Abigail’s reaction to the mounting pressure determines
the way in which the rest of the witch trials will play out. Because
she can no longer truly deny her involvement in witchcraft, she
accepts her guilt but displaces it onto Tituba. She admits being
involved in witchcraft but declares that Tituba forced her into
it. Tituba’s reaction to being accused follows Abigail’s lead: she
admits her guilt in a public setting and receives absolution and
then completes her self-cleansing by passing her guilt on to others.
In this manner, the admission of involvement with witchcraft functions
like the ritual of confession.
The ritual of confession in the witch trials also allows
the expression of sentiments that could not otherwise be verbalized
in repressive Salem. By placing her own thoughts in the devil’s
mouth, Tituba can express her long-held aggression against the man
who enslaves her. Moreover, she states that the devil tempted her
by showing her some white people that he owned. By naming the devil
as a slave owner, she subtly accuses Parris and other white citizens
of doing the devil’s work in condoning slavery. Tituba is normally
a powerless figure; in the context of the witch trials, however,
she gains a power and authority previously unknown to her. No one
would have listened seriously to a word she had to say before, but
she now has a position of authority from which to name the secret
sins of other Salem residents. She uses that power and authority
to make accusations that would have earned her a beating before.
The girls—Abigail and Betty—follow the same pattern, empowering themselves
through their allegedly religious hysteria.