Exploring the importance of religion to the community of Salem
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During the 1600s the Puritan community in England and was being gravely persecuted. The persecution was mainly due to the revolutionary view of the religion that the monarchy of the time had. The Puritan section of the protestant religion supported poor and uneducated people while at the same time attacking the power of Bishops. Puritan members of parliament were arrested if they did not agree with the official line. All known Puritans in England were spied on by Elizabeth’s secret police, and Puritan meetings were broken up by militia.
The persecution stiffened the Puritans morale and some sort of action became inevitable. The persecution eventually caused many Puritans to flee to America, where they founded several colonies. The small town of Salem was founded in 1626 and its name comes from the holy city of Jerusalem. The events that appear in the play took place around 40 years later. The fact that the thousands of Puritans left Europe purely because of their religion shows how unbelievably devoted those people were.
It seems that the devotion to their religion became the people of Salem’s downfall. Following the Bible through a literal interpretation caused obvious problems between the people and the church as well as between the people themselves. It was clear that some people knew that there religious views were causing problems but those people did not want to jeopardise their position in the highly important religion. Without their religion the people of Salem had nothing. The language that the Puritan people of Salem use shows how important religion was.
The language as a whole almost repeats that of the King James Version of the Bible which was brought about because of the pressure put on the church by the Puritan section. That version of the Bible was authorised in 1611 and was used by Protestants for 350 years. This language can be seen when Giles Corey comments about his feelings by saying “It discomforts me” whereas normally you would say, “It makes me uncomfortable”. The language that is used gives an archaic feeling to what is happening although the events are set only 400 years ago.
I think that shows how the strictly religious Puritan people have kept the language used by their forefathers to carry on the old religious and theocratic views. It also shows how much respect the people have for their religion to have kept the language used hundreds of years previously although all around them other languages were progressing. Throughout the whole play there are countless references to the Bible whether it be through quotations or comparisons showing that the people of Salem really knew their religion thoroughly.
The references to the Bible again show how religion was the life of people in Salem. During act four Reverend Hale uses a well know quotation from the Bible when he compares his experience to that of Jesus when he says “I have gone this three months like our Lord into the wilderness”, this in the Bible, according to Saint Matthew, was when Jesus was “led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” Meaning that he has taken time to think about the situation with no input from any other sources. Hale has gone alone to make a decision on what stance he should take in the village.
Other examples of the referencing are, when in act 2 Elizabeth speaks of Abigail by saying “where she walks the crowd will part like the sea of Israel”. This reference is relating to the parting of the red sea in the book of exodus when Moses led the Israelites away from Egypt. Elizabeth is indicating that the people in the village part to let Abigail through, this could mean that either they are parting because of her importance in bringing the witches to justice or they are doing so because they do not want to be implicated for standing out or “upsetting” Abigail.
When Danforth is asked to delay the executions, he tells Reverend Hale that “God have not empowered me like Joshua to stop the sun from rising” this refers to him not having the authority to let the other people go. Danforth believes that his duty in the village is to carry out his service to God by doing what is right according to the Bible. If he were to let the other people go he would be failing to fulfil his duty. In that part of the play it was shown how desperate the people of Salem were to keep their pride and dignity especially if they were highly respected in the village for being part of the church.
Pride is one of the seven deadly sins which, when play is examined, clearly relate to one of the main characters. In chapter 4 Danforth realises that the girls were falsely accusing people but he does not want have his authority undermined by acquitting the remaining people because it would mean that he would have to admit that he was wrong not to believe John Proctor and Mary Warren. During act 2 Reverend Hale visits John Proctors house to look around and inspect it to see if the accusations of Abigail’s are true. He asks John and Elizabeth some questions to see whether it is likely that they are witches.
The main question that Hale asks was to John when he says “do you know your commandments? ” Not knowing your commandments was looked upon as almost being a crime and if you didn’t know them it was a clear sign that you were a witch in Salem. When John fails to recite all of his commandments it makes Reverend Hale suspicious. This again shows how important religion was because of the fact that a person can be condemned to death for not knowing their ten commandments. It shows commitment to the religion and that minor things such as forgetting one commandment were looked upon seriously.
The forenames of the characters and others that are involved are taken from the Bible. At the time this was expected in Christian communities, most of the names are recognisable but some of them are not generally used today. Names such as Ezekiel, Isaac and Susanna are from the Old Testament but others like John are taken from the New Testament. I think that the language and names are a sign of the strength and togetherness of the Salem community. The way in which the people speak is very powerful which in turn creates and impression of a different, highly religious community that is surviving alone by simply following their religion.
Using words that are rarely used today but have the same meanings adds to the power of their speech. Words such as Lucifer, Satan, Gospel and Sabbath are good examples. The people of Salem look highly upon their religion; the comparing of themselves to people of other religions is used during the play. In act one Parris speaks in disbelief by saying “What, are we Quakers? ” This speaking in disbelief by comparing themselves to people of other religions shows how other religions are seen as inferior. The people of Salem have “tunnel vision” because they see no other way of living different from their own.
This point shows the importance of religion to the people of Salem because of the belief in their own religion even though the people know that their way of life is not very good. The people are giving up their lives because of the faith that they have in God. They believe that if they live their lives like the Bible tells them they will not commit any sins and will go to a better life after they die. There are many relationships between work, lifestyle and religion for the people of Salem. The lives of all the people revolve around the church; this makes any sort of comfort disappear.
There is a simple structure to the lives of the Salem townsfolk, work and attending church. The bareness of the church links in to the harsh bareness of the peoples lives. There is nothing in Salem to distract anyone from the importance of prayer. This again shows the commitment that the people of Salem have to their religion. The situation in Salem came about from the younger members of the community pushing the religious boundaries. At the time of the witch hunts people were beginning to rebel against the church because they believe that the theocratic rule was unfair.
Abigail and some other girls from the town go into the woods and are caught dancing and chanting around a fire. When the investigation starts to find out who was the leader of the small group the finger is swiftly pointed at Tituba. The investigators do not hesitate in going to see Tituba because when the finger is pointed at her the others girls are seen as being dragged along. I think this is because Tituba is not seen as being a real Puritan in the community. Anyone that was not born a Puritan in the Salem society is discriminated.
I think that it shows that the second generation of people in Salem have lost the respect for their religion that had previously been so strong. The things that are talked about in the Bible are disregarded. The importance of religion to the people of Salem is slowly reducing because of the harsh living conditions that the people have to endure. Being part of the Puritan community in Salem meant that any enjoyment was forbidden, Christmas was not celebrated, holidays were used as extra prayer time, and working was to survive.
I think that those factors helped in making younger members of the community rebel after the boundaries of the theocratic village had been gradually pushed over 40 years. Throughout the play we are reminded of the difficulty of working the land in Salem although John Proctor is the only person in the play to ever refer to the harsh nature of working the land. When he says “I labour the earth from dawn of day to blink of night”, “This forms a continent when you go by foot dropping seed into it” and “I have a crop to sow and lumber to drag home” he is not complaining but he is giving examples of the tough work that he has to do every day.
The people of Salem are treated as untrustworthy prisoners of their religion this can be seen in act two when Reverend Hale visits John Proctor and tells him of how he has missed church, this like earlier is a small factor that can become incriminating for the perpetrator. In Salem it even went as far as having a two man patrol appointed to see who in the town was missing church and who was when they shouldn’t have been. Again this suggests that the importance of religion for the people was reducing because of the way they were treated.
Another good example of the miss treating of the Salem townsfolk would be the way in which they are made responsible for anything that goes wrong because it is blamed on the sins of the people. The variation of characters moral values is immense throughout the play. Danforth is willing to let the killing continue to save his name and to prove that the previous killings were the right thing to do. Danforth knows that if he were to admit to having made an error in judgement he would be undermining his own authority.
It is clear that by the exit of the last Reverend the people of Salem to not take too kindly to respectable people making the wrong decisions or lying. Another example of this is when Reverend Parris is constantly worrying about his job in the town because he thinks that Abigail has jeopardised his position. This can be seen in act on when Parris says “There is a faction that is sworn to drive me from my pulpit. Do you understand that? ” . If Danforth were to admit he would probably have been removed from his position in the court.
The importance of Danforth’s job becomes higher than that of his religion. Reverend Hale is very much different from Danforth because as the play goes on his moral values become much clearer. In act one when he arrives he sees himself as being almighty. Hale believes that his books are “weighted with authority” and he thinks that all the answers to everyone’s questions are in his books. Hale has faith in his duty to remove any sign of the devil from the town but after signing many people’s death warrants he begins to lose his religious faith and then relies on his morality.
He tries to save the people that are left by persuading them to confess and questioning Danforth’s decision to make them confess or hang. Hale may be trying to save the innocent people but by doing so he is going against his teachings by telling the people that lying is right. Both of those characters show that the importance of religion is dismissed when they feel that they should, in Danforth’s case try and save themselves and in Hale’s case follow their moral values over their religious teachings. There are characters with strong moral values in the town of Salem.
Giles Cory is an honest man that is killed for carrying out his duty. In court he claims that someone that he knows has overheard Putnam boasting about how he made his daughter point the finger at John Jacobs to obtain his land. This can be seen when he says “If Jacobs hang for a witch he forfeits his property- that’s law! And there is none but Putnam with the coins to buy so great a piece. This man is killing his neighbours for that land”. The court tries to make Corey tell them who overheard Putnam.
Corey refuses and is killed for fulfilling his duties of giving anonymity to someone that he knows. Corey is killed in a dignified way when stones are being placed on him to make him confess he just replies “More weight”. Abigail and Mary Warren on the other hand break their duties. Abigail has very little moral values. This can be seen all the way through the play where she chooses to have the killings carry on because of her accusations. Abigail is very selfish and is willing to do anything to get John Proctor.
Again this highlights another deadly sin, this time it is Envy. Abigail accuses John’s wife of being a witch to get rid of her. Her plan backfires because John Proctor himself is condemned by her. I think that Abigail’s conscience get the better of her and she feels that she has to leave. When in court Mary Warren shows her weakness when she decides to go against John Proctor by lying. Because she thinks that the other girls will turn on her she saves herself like many of the other characters, forgetting any religious or moral values.
In the play John Proctor has his pride and dignity shattered when he has to admit to lechery. He is proven to be not as “white” as he first seemed. John regains his morality at the end of the play when he chooses to die when he knew that he could have confessed. This can be seen in act four when Proctor says “I can. And there’s your first marvel, that I can… Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs”. Proctor does not confess because the other people would have died for no reason and he had to join them in a stand against the lies that have been told.
Elizabeth Proctor believes that by dying for the other people John will have regained his pride and dignity. This can be seen at the very end of the play when Hale is still trying to get Elizabeth to persuade John to confess. Elizabeth says “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him! ” At that moment in the play Elizabeth takes a very moral stance even though she is also not as “white” as she first seemed. Elizabeth is believed to be very moral but lies in court in an attempt to save John’s life.
Her lying backfires on them both because she is made out to be an immoral, unreligious person and he is condemned to death. It is made even worse by the fact that John has told the court that “In her life, sir, she have never lied. There are them that cannot sing, and them that cannot sweep- my wife cannot lie” speaking of Elizabeth. The staging and stage directions in the play show the religious zeal of the village. The stage directions are used effectively to show the bland and functional furniture that the people own. The bland and functional furniture represents the Puritan way of life.
The working week is highlighted in the play using staging, and then the weekend life of prayer is also shown. The staging and stage direction reinforces the fact that working and living in Salem is extremely difficult. At the beginning of act one the introduction gives a brief description of the room “The room gives off an air of clean spareness. The roof rafters are exposed, and the wood colours are raw and unmellowed. ” The example not only shows the emptiness of these peoples lives but it has an underlying meaning of very little light surrounded by darkness.
The religious zeal is simply made clearer by all of the effective staging and stage directions showing the life that the people are living because of the importance of their religion. Dramatic irony is used throughout the play to help build tension. One example of the dramatic irony is when Elizabeth Proctor condemns John by lying to the court about his lechery. Elizabeth thinks that by lying for him she is saving his life, the moment has dramatic irony because the audience knows that she must tell the truth to save him.
If Elizabeth had told the truth the whole situation would have been ended although John would have probably been excommunicated from the village. This shows how unforgiving their religious views were, for Elizabeth to go against what she believes in she obviously thought that John’s punishment would have been much worse if she had told the truth. Another example of dramatic irony is when Reverend Hale visits John proctors house to question them about their commitment to their religion. Hale asks John his commandments and John can recite all but one.
John forgets lechery which by reading the play we know that he committed. Like before this shows how serious it was to not know your commandments. Later on Hale tells of his view of not knowing your commandments to John “Theology, sir is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small” This suggests that the importance of religion can be over the top in some circumstances this relates to the crucible. After reading the play it is clear that the title itself gives an immediate insight of what to expect.
A crucible is “A vessel made of a refractory substance such as graphite or porcelain, used for melting and calcining materials at high temperatures. ” As well as being “A severe test, as of patience or belief; a trial. ” After reading the play it is clear that the title is intelligently chosen. The crucible being a melting pot is backed up by the fact that at the end of each act the tension has built up to the point that the tension, like a substance in a melting pot, bubbles and boils over. The boiling over and heat also links into the fire and burning of evil and hell.
This is ironic because the community was formed to rid the Puritan people of a sinful life. The innocent people are the ones that are being burnt in this fire because of one person. The crucible being a severe test links into the whole play. The community of Salem is being severely tested by the witch trials. All their belief and faith is being thrown out of the window. This shows that in times of uncertainty the importance of religion is lost to the massive uproar of an event. Overall I think that the importance of religion is different for all of the people in Salem.
Each individual has a different view of the world and how to live. The likeness is seen in the community as a whole. I think that the importance of religion to the community of Salem very limited although their lives are revolving around it. Because the people are no longer under pressure to conform they have begun to take their life in Salem strangely for granted. All the things that they think are wrong are slowly creeping in. There is constant conflict between religion and freedom. The importance of religion only goes so far and because of the circumstances in Salem at the time religion is dismissed.