Character analysis of Reverend Parris from the novel “The Crucible”
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If it were not for the self-seeking nature present in Salem, the infamous witch trials of 1692 would not have taken place. Most villagers were interested in themselves and none other. One such character is Reverend Parris from the historical play The Crucible, which concerns these Salem witch trials. He is only interested in his good name. In the beginning of the play, this conceit leads Reverend Parris to support the court’s false judgements in order to preserve his reputation, but as the play progresses he begins to question the court for the same reason. This conceit also leads him to suppress obvious evidence that undermines the court or himself. These actions help the court become stronger, and prevent others from questioning the court’s authority. Reverend Samuel Parris plays a large role in The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller, and the decisions he makes, for his own well-being, bring harm to others.
Reverend Parris’ only concern is the preservation of his good status within the town of Salem. When he discovers his own daughter, Betty, and niece, Abigail Williams, dancing secretly in the woods, he knows it will look bad for him, especially since he is minister. He tells Abigail, “I have fought here three long years to bend these stiff necked people to me, just now when some good respect is rising for me in the parish, you compromise my very character.” (pg.11) Parris has fought long and hard to earn himself respect in the town, and he doesn’t want Abigail’s actions to undermine his achieved dignity. Later when Thomas Putnam looks to unnatural causes as to why Parris’ Betty does not wake, Parris asks, “In my house? In my house, Thomas?
They will topple me with this.” (pg.16) Parris knows that if his “own household is discovered to be the center of some obscene practice” (pg.10) that his enemies “will ruin [him] with it.” (pg.10) Parris of course does not want this. Towards the end of the book when the court which has already convicted so many of witchery, is about to hang respected folk, Parris excitedly tells Danforth, “You cannot hang this sort. There is danger for me.” (pg. 127). Parris wants to earn the respect of the town, but if his villagers begin to doubt the court which he supports, then they will doubt him as well. Reverend Parris would like to prevent all actions that would compromise his good name, because for him, nothing is more important.
As the play begins, and the court is still highly supported by the villagers of Salem, Parris takes every attack against the court as an attack against himself. Later when the villagers begin to loose faith in the court, he fears that the town will turn against him, and his reputation will be tainted. As the court is in full swing, John Proctor, Giles Corey, and Francis Nurse bring a list of people who never noticed anything peculiar about their convicted wives, to the court. Parris nervously moves over and reads [the list] over Danforth’s shoulder. Sweating, he says, “These people should be summoned. For questioning.” (pg. 93) The words nervously and sweating imply that Parris is afraid that this newly discovered evidence could undermine the court, and in return undermine him. It is possible that the people who signed would not have been summoned for questioning if it were not for Parris’ cowardly remark. Further into the play, Proctor comes in with Mary Warren, one of the girls that takes part in the crying-out, and has Mary tell the court that the girls “never saw no spirits.” (pg.106)
Smiling but nervous because Danforth seems to be struck by Mary Warren’s story, Parris says, “Surely your excellency is not taken by this simple lie.” (pg.108) Parris is nervous about the statement from Mary Warren, and pressures Danforth into not believing her by making it sound like Danforth (your excellency) would be childish for believing it. If Danforth believed Mary’s story, it would mean that the girls’ testimonies were false, which in turn means the court was acting on false evidence, which makes Parris, the minister of the town, responsible for everything. But fortunately for Parris, Danforth doesn’t admit to believing Mary, and the cruel trials go on. But then everything changes, and the town begins to lose its confidence in the court. Parris says to Danforth, “I fear there will be a riot here.” (pg.127) Parris now knows that if the respected people hang, he will be responsible in the end for their deaths. Parris goes with what the majority of the town feels, because he doesn’t want to end up with the blame, a smudged name, and shunned from the town.
Reverend Parris keeps knowledge from the court, because he knows that if it were revealed, it might wake a vengeance on him. At the very beginning of the play, Parris is questioning Abigail about what she and the other girls were doing in the forest. He suspects that one of the girls was naked, but Abigail denies it. Parris still doesn’t believe her and says, “I saw it.” (pg.11) Later on when Danforth is questioning Parris about the incident in the woods, and asks Parris if he denies seeing the girls dancing, Parris proclaims, “I do not, sir, but I never saw any of them naked.” (pg.105) As the reader one realizes that this is a straight out lie. He is lying because if the girls were known to have been dancing naked, which is a deadly sin in the puritan time, the girls’ purity would be questioned.
Like always this would land on his back, and in return on his name in the town. When Reverend Parris’ niece, Abigail, suddenly runs away with Parris’ money, it takes a while for him to inform the court. He explains, “My niece, sir, my niece– I believe she has vanished. I had thought to advice you of it earlier in the week but–” (pg.126) Unfortunately Parris isn’t able to finish his sentence because I would be curious to know what excuse he would come up with but, one can still assume that he is just hesitant to tell this information to Danforth. Why would the leader of the girls, Abigail, run off, and steal? What does she have to hide? Abigail is supposed to be the most pure and white of the girls, but this new incident does not support this assumption. This is exactly what Parris is afraid of. Parris will do almost anything to preserve his good name, even if it means lie, which the puritan God damns.
The fact that Reverend Parris is the minister of Salem is quite hypocritical. He does exactly what a minister tells his villagers not to do. Others are not a concern of Parris if it means his reputation, and lying is not a problem for him as long as he gets out clean. As minister of the town, Parris’ views and decisions are weighty in Salem. It is possible to say that if Parris had not supported the girls, the court could have been overthrown, and lives spared. But such an action would be much too decent, since it would mean the sacrifice of his good name. Parris’ concern is to keep his reputation clean, and the decisions he makes for this to be possible, fuel the fire that warms the false court of Salem.