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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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ACT I, SCENE 2

Parris has no chance to recover from this onslaught, for now the
Putnams, Ann and then Thomas, come in, full of news. Their
daughter Ruth has been stricken as well, and they are certain it's
from "the Devil's touch." Parris' manner changes abruptly: with
Tituba and Abigail he was sharp and angry, but now he seems
most anxious to please. The Putnams must be important people,
and we soon find out why. When Parris pleads with them, "leap
not to witchcraft.... They will howl me out of Salem for such
corruption in my house," Thomas Putnam replies, "Mr. Parris, I
have taken your part in all contention here, and I would
continue." Putnam is the minister's ally, and as such has power
over him. Putnam will use his power to get his way in this
matter, as we shall see.

Goody Putnam then explains how she knows this is witchcraft.
Last night she sent Ruth to Tituba to contact the spirits of Ruth's
seven baby brothers and sisters, all of whom had died-
"murdered," according to their mother-before they were a day
old.



"It is a formidable sin to conjure up the dead!" Parris cries, and
turns in horror to Abigail. Of course, she had nothing to do with
conjuring spirits: "Not I, sir-Tituba and Ruth." Once again, all
Parris can think of is himself: "Oh, Abigail, what proper
payment for my charity! Now I am undone." But Thomas
Putnam has a plan. If Parris will quit dithering and take charge
of the situation, he will not be undone. "Let you strike out
against the Devil, and the village will bless you for it!" Parris,
swayed by this argument-which not only makes sense, but also
flatters his self-important image of himself-goes down to the
parlor with the Putnams to lead the people in a psalm.

I said that Putnam's argument made sense, and it does, but only
if you accept the premise that Betty and Ruth are in fact
"witched." And this has not yet been proven even to Parris's
satisfaction. But Putnam puts it to him in such a way that the
only thing Parris can do to save himself is to "Wait for no one to
charge you-declare it [witchcraft] yourself." And Parris, being
who he is, has to go along. Whatever his doubts, whatever his
fears, his actions say, "This is witchcraft."

NOTE: Every act is studded with such moments, seemingly
innocent or unavoidable decisions that determine the direction
of future events. Here Parris takes the first small step toward
the horror that will follow.

And a word here about "proof." It is the most troublesome issue
in the play: how do you prove witchcraft? Everyone seems to
have a different answer. Look at Goody Putnam's speech, "They
were murdered, Mr. Parris! And mark this proof! Mark it! Last
night my Ruth were ever so little 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!" Later on Reverend Hale, the expert on
witchcraft, will say, "We cannot look to superstition in this. The
Devil is precise." But the question of what constitutes proof of
witchcraft and what is mere superstition is never resolved in the
play, and Arthur Miller is almost totally silent about it. So we
too will have to reserve judgment, and just take note of these
"proofs" as they are presented.

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