Literature Study GuidesThe CrucibleAct 1 Betty Is Bewitched Summary

The Crucible | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Act 1 (Betty Is Bewitched)

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1 (Betty Is Bewitched) of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.

The Crucible | Act 1 (Betty Is Bewitched) | Summary

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Summary

When Act 1 begins Reverend Parris kneels by the bed of his daughter, Betty, who is in a comatose state. He pleads with God to awaken her. Abigail Williams, a 17-year-old girl Parris took into his home when her parents were killed by Indians, enters with news from Susanna Walcott, Doctor Griggs's messenger. Suzanna says the doctor has found no explanation for Betty's disorder and the minister should consider sorcery. Both Abigail and Reverend Parris demand that she speak nothing of the doctor's suggestion to the townspeople. After she leaves, Parris interrogates Abigail about the girls' activities in the forest with Tituba, the minister's black slave and housekeeper from Barbados. Abigail avows they were just dancing, not participating in witchcraft, and Betty fainted when Reverend Parris jumped out of the woods. When the minister questions why Tituba was "swaying like a dumb beast over that fire," Abigail says, "she always sings her Barbados songs, and we [the girls] dance." She denies any girls were naked. When Parris pointedly questions Abigail about Elizabeth Proctor's reason for firing her as a servant in their home, Abigail insists Mrs. Proctor and others in Salem treat the girls as slaves.

Mrs. Ann Putnam enters and states she is glad the suspicion about witchcraft in Salem is finally being discussed. She shares gossip about Betty flying and news about her daughter, Ruth, sleepwalking. Her husband, Thomas, a wealthy landowner, believes witchcraft is rampant in Salem. He accuses those landowners whose land he covets of witchcraft, namely Giles Corey, an elderly and honest farmer; Francis Nurse, one of Salem's most highly respected men; and John Proctor, an honest farmer and upstanding member of the community. Thomas Putnam's wife suspects a witch murdered her previous seven children during their infancy. When pressed, Abigail admits Tituba and Ruth called up spirits. The Putnams' servant, Mercy Lewis, arrives and explains that Ruth has awaked. Mrs. Putnam and her husband accompany Parris downstairs to pray with the people gathered there while Abigail, Mercy, and Mary Warren, John and Elizabeth Proctor's servant, discuss their previous night's activities. Abigail knows they will be whipped if the truth comes out, so she commands the girls never to speak of their sinful actions, threatening to cast a spell on any girl who disobeys.

Analysis

In Arthur Miller's The Crucible, the Reverend Samuel Parris is the character who sows the seeds of hysteria. Parris strives to be the autocratic leader of the theocracy ruling the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1692. He emphasizes laws based on authoritative interpretations of the Bible, and he judges his congregation's thoughts and actions according to these criteria. Although the original Pilgrims may have come to America to gain religious freedom, the Puritans of 1692 condemned as heresy any original thought or belief that did not mesh with their religion. Since they fear being excommunicated for any unorthodox opinions or being perceived as the Devil's disciples, the townspeople accept Parris's dictates without question. Many of them also fear the nearby woods because the Indians living there are responsible for many relatives' deaths. These two fears combined with Parris's discovery of the girls and Tituba's activities create a sort of perfect storm for a witch hunt.

Because of Betty Parris and Ruth Putnam's comatose and sleepwalking states, the girls latch onto sorcery as the cause of their conditions to avoid being whipped and publicly humiliated for disobeying the theocracy's laws. Knowing confusion feeds on suspicion and produces turmoil, Reverend Parris acts to protect his position of power within the community, which is threatened by his daughter's participation in the night's events, by interrogating and threatening Tituba, Abigail, and the other girls. His harsh intimidation triggers group hysteria, attracting those who are jealous of their neighbors' higher social standings, contented lives, or economic situations.

The accusation of practicing witchcraft offers these people an opportunity to appease the dissatisfaction with their own lives. For example, Thomas Putnam, a wealthy man who desires the land of his neighbors, welcomes the hysteria. Although he doesn't adopt the mob mentality, he manipulates it to serve his own ends since any man convicted of witchcraft loses his land. Putnam has long coveted the land belonging to Giles Corey, Francis Nurse, and John Proctor, so he schemes to ruin them. His wife, Ann, bitter over the deaths of seven of her babies, envies Rebecca Nurse's thriving adult offspring. Her insinuations about why Rebecca's children lived when hers didn't sow seeds of doubt in people's minds. In this way the Salem witch hunt becomes a toppling series of causes and effects driven, for the most part, by the selfish motivations of the citizens.

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