A small upper bedroom in the home of Reverend Samuel Parris, Salem, Massachusetts, in the spring of the year 1692

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A small upper bedroom in the home of Reverend Samuel Parris, Salem, Massachusetts, in the spring of the year 1692.

There is a narrow window at the left. Through its leaded panes the morning sunlight streams. A candle still burns near the bed, which is at the right. A chest, a chair, and a small table are the other furnishings. At the back a door opens on the landing of the stairway to the ground floor. The room gives op an air of clean spareness. The roof rafters are exposed, and the wood colors are raw and unmellowed.

As the curtain rises, Reverend Parris is discovered kneeling be-side the bed, evidently in prayer. His daughter, Betty Parris, aged ten, is lying on the bed, inert.

At the time of these events Parris was in his middle forties. In history he cut a villainous path, and there is very little good to be said for him. He believed he was being persecuted wherever he went, despite his best efforts to win people and God to his side. In meeting, he felt insulted if someone rose to shut the door without first asking his permission. He was a widower with no interest in children, or talent with them. He regarded them as young adults, and until this strange crisis he, like the rest of Salem, never conceived that the children were anything but thankful for being permitted to walk straight, eyes slightly low-ered, arms at the sides, and mouths shut until bidden to speak.

His house stood in the KtownM - but we today would hardly call it a village. The meeting house was nearby, and from this point outward - toward the bay or inland - there were a few small-windowed, dark houses snuggling against the raw Massa-chusetts winter. Salem had been established hardly forty years before. To the European world the whole province was a bar-baric frontier inhabited by a sect of fanatics who, nevertheless, were shipping out products of slowly increasing quantity and value.

No one can really know what their lives were like. They had no novelists - and would not have permitted anyone to read a novel if one were handy. Their creed forbade anything re-sembling a theater or Kvain enjoyment.M They did not celebrate Christmas, and a holiday from work meant only that they must concentrate even more upon prayer.

Which is not to say that nothing broke into this strict and somber way of life. When a new farmhouse was built, friends assembled to Kraise the roof,M and there would be special foods cooked and probably some potent cider passed around. There was a good supply of neNer-do-wells in Salem, who dallied at the shovelboard in Bridget BishopNs tavern. Probably more than the creed, hard work kept the morals of the place from spoiling, for the people were forced to fight the land like heroes for every grain of corn, and no man had very much time for fooling around.

That there were some jokers, however, is indicated by the practice of appointing a two-man patrol whose duty was to Kwalk forth in the time of GodNs worship to take notice of such as either lye about the meeting house, without attending to the word and ordinances, or that lye at home or in the fields with-out giving good account thereof, and to take the names of such

Act One


persons, and to present them to the magistrates, whereby they may be accordingly proceeded against.M This predilection for minding other peopleNs business was time-honored among the people of Salem, and it undoubtedly created many of the sus-picions which were to feed the coming madness. It was also, in my opinion, one of the things that a John Proctor would rebel against, for the time of the armed camp had almost passed, and since the country was reasonably - although not wholly - safe, the old disciplines were beginning to rankle. But, as in all such matters, the issue was not clear-cut, for danger was still a possibility, and in unity still lay the best promise of safety.

The edge of the wilderness was close by. The American con-tinent stretched endlessly west, and it was full of mystery for them. It stood, dark and threatening, over their shoulders night and day, for out of it Indian tribes marauded from time to time, and Reverend Parris had parishioners who had lost relatives to these heathen.

The parochial snobbery of these people was partly responsible for their failure to convert the Indians. Probably they also pre-ferred to take land from heathens rather than from fellow Christians. At any rate, very few Indians were converted, and the Salem folk believed that the virgin forest was the DevilNs last preserve, his home base and the citadel of his final stand. To the best of their knowledge the American forest was the last place on earth that was not paying homage to God.

For these reasons, among others, they carried about an air of innate resistance, even of persecution. Their fathers had, of course, been persecuted in England. So now they and their church found it necessary to deny any other sect its freedom; lest their New Jerusalem be defiled and corrupted by wrong ways and deceitful ideas.

They believed, in short, that they held in their steady hands the candle that would light the world. We have inherited this belief, and it has helped and hurt us. It helped them with the discipline it gave them. They were a dedicated folk, by and large,

The Crucible

and they had to be to survive the life they had chosen or been born into in this country.

The proof of their beliefNs value to them may be taken from the opposite character of the first Jamestown settlement, farther south, in Virginia. The Englishmen who landed there were motivated mainly by a hunt for profit. They had thought to pick off the wealth of the new country and then return rich to Eng-land. They were a band of individualists, and a much more ingratiating group than the Massachusetts men. But Virginia destroyed them. Massachusetts tried to kill off the Puritans, but they combined; they set up a communal society which, in the beginning, was little more than an armed camp with an auto-cratic and very devoted leadership. It was, however, an autoc-racy by consent, for they were united from top to bottom by a commonly held ideology whose perpetuation was the reason and justification for all their sufferings. So their self-denial, their purposefulness, their suspicion of all vain pursuits, their hard-handed justice, were altogether perfect instruments for the con-quest of this space so antagonistic to man.

But the people of Salem in 1692 were not quite the dedicated folk that arrived on the Mayflower. A vast differentiation had taken place, and in their own time a revolution had unseated the royal government and substituted a junta which was at this moment in power. The times, to their eyes, must have been out of joint, and to the common folk must have seemed as insoluble and complicated as do ours today. It is not hard to see how easily many could have been led to believe that the time of confusion had been brought upon them by deep and darkling forces. No hint of such speculation appears on the court record, but social disorder in any age breeds such mystical suspicions, and when, as in Salem, wonders are brought forth from below the social surface, it is too much to expect people to hold back very long from laying on the victims with all the force of their frustrations.

The Salem tragedy, which is about to begin in these pages,

Act One


developed from a paradox. It is a paradox in whose grip we still live, and there is no prospect yet that we will discover its res-olution. Simply, it was this: for good purposes, even high pur-poses, the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combine of state and religious power whose function was to keep the com-munity together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction by material or ideological enemies. It was forged for a necessary purpose and accomplished that pur-pose. But all organization is and must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy the same space. Evidently the time came in New England when the repressions of order were heavier than seemed warranted by the dangers against which the order was organized. The witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom.

When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday. It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom.

The witch-hunt was not, however, a mere repression. It was also, and as importantly, a long overdue opportunity for every-one so inclined to express publicly his guilt and sins, under the cover of accusations against the victims. It suddenly became possible - and patriotic and holy - for a man to say that Martha Corey had come into his bedroom at night, and that, while his wife was sleeping at his side, Martha laid herself down on his chest and Knearly suffocated him.M Of course it was her spirit only, but his satisfaction at confessing himself was no lighter than if it had been Martha herself. One could not ordinarily speak such things in public.

Long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly ex-pressed, and vengeance taken, despite the BibleNs charitable injunctions. Land-lust which had been expressed before by con-

The Crucible

stant bickering over boundaries and deeds, could now be ele-vated to the arena of morality; one could cry witch against oneNs neighbor and feel perfectly justified in the bargain. Old scores could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord; suspicions and the envy of the miserable toward the happy could and did burst out in the general revenge.

Reverend Parris is praying now, and, though we cannot hear his words, a sense of his confusion hangs about him. He mumbles, then seems about to weep; then he weeps, then,prays again; but his daughter does not stir on the bed.

The door opens, and his Negro slave enters. Tituba is in her forties. Parris brought her with him from Barbados, where he spent some years as a merchant before entering the ministry. She enters as one does who can no longer bear to be barred from the sight of her beloved, but she is also very frightened because her slave sense has warned her that, as always, trouble in this house eventually lands on her back.

Tituba, already taking a step backward: My Betty be hearty soon?

Parris: Out of here!

Tituba, backing to the door: My Betty not goinN die...

Parris, scrambling to his feet in a fury: Out of my sight! She is gone. Out of my - He is overcome with sobs. He clamps his teeth against them and closes the door and leans against it, ex-hausted. Oh, my God! God help me! Quaking with fear, mum-bling to himself through his sobs, he goes to the bed and gently takes BettyLs hand. Betty. Child. Dear child, Will you wake, will you open up your eyes! Betty, little one...

He is bending to kneel again when his niece, Abigail Williams, seventeen, enters - a strikingly beautiful girl, an orphan, with an

Act One


endless capacity for dissembling. Now she is all worry and appre-hension and propriety.

Abigail: Uncle? He looks to her. Susanna WalcottNs here from Doctor Griggs.

Parris: Oh?. Let her come, let her come.

Abigail, leaning out the door to call to Susanna, who is down the hall a few steps: Come in, Susanna.

Susanna Walcott, a little younger than Abigail, a nervous, hur-ried girl, enters.

Parris, eagerly: What does the doctor say, child?

Susanna, craning around Parris to get a look at Betty: He bid me come and tell you, reverend sir, that he cannot discover no medicine for it in his books.

Parris: Then he must search on.

Susanna: Aye, sir, he have been searchinN his books since he left you, sir. But he bid me tell you, that you might look to un-natural things for the cause of it.

Parris, his eyes going wide: No - no. There be no unnatural cause here. Tell him I have sent for Reverend Hale of Beverly, and Mr. Hale will surely confirm that. Let him look to medicine and put out all thought of unnatural causes here. There be none.

Susanna: Aye, sir. He bid me tell you. She turns to go.

Abigail: Speak nothinN of it in the village, Susanna.

Parris: Go directly home and speak nothing of unnatural causes. Susanna: Aye, sir. I pray for her. She goes out.

Abigail: Uncle, the rumor of witchcraft is all about; I think

10 The Crucible

youNd best go down and deny it yourself. The parlorNs packed with people, sir. INll sit with her.

Parris, pressed, turns on her: And what shall I say to them? That my daughter and my niece I discovered dancing like heathen in the forest?

Abigail: Uncle, we did dance; let you tell them I confessed it - and INll be whipped if I must be. But theyNre speakinN of witch-craft. BettyNs not witched.

Parris: Abigail, I cannot go before the congregation when I know you have not opened with me. What did you do with her in the forest?

Abigail: We did dance, uncle, and when you leaped out of the bush so suddenly, Betty was frightened and then she fainted. And thereNs the whole of it.

Parris: Child. Sit you down.

Abigail, quavering, as she sits: I would never hurt Betty. I love her dearly.

Parris; Now look you, child, your punishment will come in its time. But if you trafficked with spirits in the forest I must know it now, for surely my enemies will, and they will ruin me with it.

Abigail: But we never conjured spirits.

Parris: Then why can she not move herself since midnight? This child is desperate! Abigail lowers her eyes. It must come out - my enemies will bring it out. Let me know what you done there. Abigail, do you understand that I have many enemies?

Abigail: I have heard of it, uncle.

Parris: There is a faction that is sworn to drive me from my pulpit. Do you understand that?

Abigail: I think so, sir.

Act One


Parris: Now then, in the midst of such disruption, my own household is discovered to be the very center of some obscene practice. Abominations are done in the forest -

Abigail: It were sport, uncle!

Parris, pointing at Betty: You call this sport? She lowers her eyes. He pleads: Abigail, if you know something that may help the doctor, for GodNs sake tell it to me. She is silent. I saw Tituba waving her arms over the fire when I came on you. Why was she doing that? And I heard a screeching and gibberish coming from her mouth. She were swaying like a dumb beast over that fire!

Abigail: She always sings her Barbados songs, and we dance.

Parris: I cannot blink what I saw, Abigail, for my enemies will not blink it. I saw a dress lying on the grass.

Abigail, innocently: A dress?

Parris - it is very hard to say: Aye, a dress. And I thought I saw - someone naked running through the trees!

Abigail, in terror: No one was naked! You mistake yourself, uncle!

PARRIs, with anger: I saw it! He moves from her. Then, re-solved: Now tell me true, Abigail. And I pray you feel the weight of truth upon you, for now my ministryNs at stake, my ministry and perhaps your cousinNs life. Whatever abomination you have done, give me all of it now, for I dare not be taken unaware when I go before them down there.

Abigail: There is nothinN more. I swear it, uncle.

Parris, studies her, then nods, half convinced: Abigail, I have Sought here three long years to bend these stiff-necked people to me, and now, just now when some good respect is rising for me in the parish, you compromise my very character. I have

12 The Crucible

given you a home, child, I have put clothes upon your back - now give me upright answer. Your name in the town - it is en-tirely white, is it not?

Abigail, with an edge of resentment: Why, I am sure it is, sir. There be no blush about my name.

Parris, to the point: Abigail, is there any other cause than you have told me, for your being discharged from Goody Proc-torNs service? I have heard it said, and I tell you as I heard it, that she comes so rarely to the church this year for she will not sit so close to something soiled. What signified that remark?

Abigail: She hates me, uncle, she must, for I would not be her slave. ItNs a bitter woman, a lying, cold, sniveling woman, and I will not work for such a woman!

Parris: She may be. And yet it has troubled me that you are now seven month out of their house, and in all this time no other family has ever called for your service.

Abigail: They want slaves, not such as I. Let them send to Barbados for that. I will not black my face for any of them! With ill-concealed resentment at him: Do you begrudge my bed, uncle?

Parris: No - no.

Abigail, in a temper: My name is good in the village! I will not have it said my name is soiled! Goody Proctor is a gossiping liar!

Enter Mrs. Ann Putnam. She is a twisted soul of forty-five, a death-ridden woman, haunted by dreams.

Parris, as soon as the door begins to open: No - no, I cannot have anyone'. He sees her, and a certain deference springs into him, although his worry remains. Why, Goody Putnam, come in.

Mrs. Putnam, full of breath, shiny-eyed: It is a marvel. It is surely a stroke of hell upon you.

Act One Parris: No, Goody Putnam, it is -

1 3

Mrs. Putnam, glancing at Betty: How high did she fly, how high?

Parris: No, no, she never flew -

Mrs. Putnam, very pleased with it: Why, itNs sure she did. Mr. Collins saw her goinN over IngersollNs barn, and come down light as bird, he says!

Parris: Now, look you, Goody Putnam, she never - Enter Thomas Putnam, a well-to-do, hard-handed landowner, near fifty. Oh, good morning, Mr. Putnam.

Putnam: It is a providence the thing is out now! It is a provi-dence. He goes directly to the bed.

Parris: WhatNs out, sir, whatNs - ?

Mrs. Putnam goes to the bed.

Putnam, looking down at Betty: Why, her eyes is closed! Look you, Ann. Mrs. Putnam: Why, thatNs strange. To Parris: Ours is open. Parris, shocked: Your Ruth is sick?

Mrs. PuTNAM, with vicious certainty: INd not call it sick; the DevilNs touch is heavier than sick. ItNs death, yNknow, itNs death drivinN into them, forked and hoofed.

Parris: Oh, pray not! Why, how does Ruth ail?

Mrs. Putnam: She ails as she must - she never waked this morning, but her eyes open and she walks, and hears naught, sees naught, and cannot eat. Her soul is taken, surely.

Parris is struck.

PuTNAM, as though for further details: They say youNve sent for Reverend Hale of Beverly?

14 The Crucible

Parris, with dwindling conviction now: A precaution only. He has much experience in all demonic-arts, and I -

Mrs. Putnam: He has indeed; and found a witch in Beverly last year, and let you remember that.

Parris: Now, Goody Ann, they only thought that were a witch, and I am certain there be no element of witchcraft here.

Putnam: No witchcraft! Now look you, Mr. Parris -

PaRRis: Thomas, Thomas, I pray you, leap not to witchcraft. I know that you - you least of all, Thomas, would ever wish so disastrous a charge laid upon me. We cannot leap to witchcraft. They will howl me out of Salem for such corruption in my house.

A word about Thomas Putnam. He was a man with many grievances, at least one of which appears justified. Some time before, his wifeNs brother-in-law, James Bayley, had been turned down as minister of Salem. Bayley had all the qualifications, and a two-thirds vote into the bargain, but a faction stopped his acceptance, for reasons that are not clear.

Thomas Putnam was the eldest son of the richest man in the village. He had fought the Indians at Narragansett, and was deeply interested in parish affairs. He undoubtedly felt it poor payment that the village should so blatantly disregard his candi-date for one of its more important offices, especially since he regarded himself as the intellectual superior of most of the people around him.

His vindictive nature was demonstrated long before the witch-craft began. Another former Salem minister, George Burroughs, had had to borrow money to pay for his wifeNs funeral, and, since the parish was remiss in his salary, he was soon bankrupt. Thomas and his brother John had Burroughs jailed for debts the man did not owe. The incident is important only in that Burroughs succeeded in becoming minister where Bayley,

Act One


Thomas PutnamNs brother-in-law, had been rejected; the motif of resentment is clear here. Thomas Putnam felt that his own name and the honor of his family had been smirched by the village, and he meant to right matters however he could.

Another reason to believe him a deeply embittered man was his attempt to break his fatherNs will, which left a dispropor-tionate amount to a stepbrother. As with every other public cause in which he tried to force his way, he failed in this.

So it is not surprising to find that so many accusations against people are in the handwriting of Thomas Putnam, or that his name is so often found as a witness corroborating the super-natural testimony, or that his daughter led the crying-out at the most opportune junctures of the trials, especially when - But weNll speak of that when we come to it.

Putnum - at the moment he is intent upon getting Parris, for whom he has only contempt, to move toward the abyss: Mr. Parris, I have taken your part in all contention here, and I would continue; but I cannot if you hold back in this. There are hurtful, vengeful spirits layinN hands on these children.

Parris: But, Thomas, you cannot -

Putnam: Ann! Tell Mr. Parris what you have done.

MRs. Putnam: Reverend Parris, I have laid seven babies un-baptized in the earth. Believe me, sir, you never saw more hearty babies born, And yet, each would wither in my arms the very night of their birth. I have spoke nothinN, but my heart has clamored intimations. And now, this year, my Ruth, my only - I see her turning strange. A secret child she has become this year, and shrivels like a sucking mouth were pullinN on her life too. And so I thought to send her to your Tituba -

Parris: To Tituba! What may Tituba - ?

Mrs. Putnam: Tituba knows how to speak to the dead, Mr. Parris.

16 The Crucible

Parris: Goody Ann, it is a formidable sin to conjure up the dead!

Mrs. Putnam: I take it on my soul, but who else may surely tell us what person murdered my babies?

Parris, horrified: Woman!

MRs. Putnam: They were murdered, Mr. Parris! And mark this proof! Mark it! Last night my Ruth were ever so close to their little spirits; I know it, sir. For how else is she struck dumb now except some power of darkness would stop her mouth? It is a marvelous sign, Mr. Parris!

Putnam: DonNt you understand it, sir? There is a murdering witch among us, bound to keep herself in the dark. Parris turns to Betty, a frantic terror rising in him. Let your enemies make of it what they will, you cannot blink it more.

Parris, to Abigail: Then you were conjuring spirits last night.

Abigail, whispering: Not I, sir - Tituba and Ruth.

Parris turns now, with new fear, and goes to Betty, looks down at her, and then, gazing off: Oh, Abigail, what proper payment for my charity! Now I am undone.

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