Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power (William Gaddis). Puritanism was a powerful religious, social, and political order in New England colonial life. In a Puritan society, humans wanted to reform the Christian church and believed that the devil had servants that worked for him on Earth.
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Arthur Millerr’s play, The Crucible, explains the persecution of persons falsely accused of being witches in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. The play portrays power and how that power shifts among the characters. It shows which characters have power and how power can overtake people causing them to abuse it for material gain, self-preservation, or revenge. Two minor characters, Samuel Parris and Thomas Putnam, acquire power; one desperate to keep it and one hungers for more.
Power and authority are the epitome of this Patriarchal Society where men control all: wives, children, servants, courts, and the church. Reverend Samuel Parris holds an important position of authority and places himself even higher than others in the community. He is a weak man, obsessed with power and control, and throughout the play is only concerned with his reputation and money. When challenged, especially by John Proctor, Parris resents this opposition and reminds others that Proctor does not attend church on a regular basis; therefore, his opinion doesn’t matter about reforms to the church. Proctor, a well-respected man in the community, is quick to point out that he dislikes Parris sermons because [he] hardly even mention[s] God any more (Miller 27). Parris is supposed to be a man of the Lord and live a simple life, but his materialistic demands on the community continue throughout the play. Using his religious position, Parris assumes that his newly made contract will support and maintain firewood to last him a lifetime. Much to his dismay, Parris is met with constant opposition and wonders why he cannot offer one proposition but there be a howling riot of argument (Miller 28). Proctor reminds Parris that his salary is sixty-six pounds, including six for firewood. When Parris expresses the need for new, gold candlesticks, Proctor once again openly disagrees and is adamant that he will not attend church in a place where he preach nothin but golden candlesticks until he had them (Miller 62). Parris fear of being put out like the cat, relieving him of his position in Salem, push him to demand the deed to his current residence (Miller 28). Never before in Salem had such a demand been made by a minister, only to be denied. Free firewood, gold candlesticks, and the deed to the house represent Parris greed for material items and his desire for power over anyone who challenges his authority.
Creating chaos throughout the town, Thomas Putnam uses the witch trials to accuse others in order to buy their land and destroy their lives. Although Putnam is a wealthy, land-owning man, nothing seems to satisfy his wants and wishes. After inheriting an extravagant amount of land from his grandfather, Putnam continues to want more. He is not willing to share the land with those in need and becomes angry if anyone enters what he believes is his property. Putnam threatens Proctor that if [he] loads one oak of [his] and [hell] fight to drag it home (Miller 30). Putnam warns Proctor that if he attempts to take anything from his property, then he will have issues with Putnam. Because his brother-in-law is prevented from being voted into the office of ministers, Putnam holds a grudge against Francis Nurse. Along with gaining profit from the misfortune of his enemies, Putnam disciplines them. The only thing Putnam wants is to see people suffer; it makes him feel powerful. Hungry for revenge and to display his power, Putnam encourages his daughter, Ruth, to accuse innocent people of committing witchcraft. Giles questions Putnam about why he would use his teenage daughter to cry witchery upon George Jacobs that is now in jail, but Putnam claims that it is a lie (Miller 89). Putnamr’s plan is to accuse Jacobs of being a witch, so by law, he will be forced to forfeit his property. As Putnamr’s neighbors are found guilty, his acreage expands.
No strong personal relationship can be found that connects Reverend Samuel Parris and Thomas Putnam; however, similarities in their hunger for power is shown throughout the play. Besides family, Putnam is one of the first people to call upon the Parrisr’s house after Betty falls ill. It seems as if Putnam is there to convince Parris that witchcraft is to blame for both Bettyr’s and his daughter, Ruthr’s, sudden illness. Putnam encourages Parris to speak with the townspeople, blaming witches for his daughterr’s sickness. At first, it seems that Putnam wants Parris to denounce the devil and have the village bless him for it, but realistically it appears that Putnam is only looking out for himself. Putnam is angry with the people of Salem for not selecting his brother-in-law as the town minister, so he is going to use Parris position of authority to seek revenge on the people in the community he feels are his enemies. Using unyielding pressure, Putnam is able to convince Parris to commit to the idea of supernatural forces, or witchery, that is the root of Bettyr’s sickness. Once admitted by Reverend Parris, the stage for what becomes Salemr’s witch hunt is set and Putnamr’s desire for revenge and profit fall into place. Some of the primary accusations come from Putnam and are supported by Parris. These two men, among others, use their influence and power to accuse innocent people of illegal acts of witchcraft, which result in nineteen deaths by the time the trials are over.
With great power comes great responsibility (Voltaire); however, few are responsible enough to remain fair. Reverend Samuel Parris and Thomas Putnam use their power as a tool that causes a lot of harm to many people in the town of Salem. Miller reveals how having too much pride in oner’s self will end in your downfall or someone’s demise. The Crucible shows how these two men and their search for power did not gain the respect and social status they feel they deserve and ultimately ended up the same way they began the play. Throughout history, the hunger for power has the potential to make an impact on a personr’s life be it positive or negative. During the Salem Witch Trials, many lives were taken from people because of oner’s pride overpowered all. No one will ever know how or if these deaths could have been prevented, but one can take the lessons learned through the characters, and use them in reality.
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