I decided to creep though my school folders from last year. This was also written last fall, and is a response to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
I don’t remember the prompt and at the moment am too tired to read this particular essay, but I do remember this: it was fun to write… Or that could just be my usual response to everything I have ever written.
Damsels in Distress and Draconian Dogma
Religion has played a fundamental role in most, if not all, societies. Its parameters are used to create either an implied or explicit social order; when compromised, the offender is usually punished or ridiculed and regarded as a nonmember of his community. In many ways, this form of retribution is logical. Murder, for instance, is wrong in most religions; these religions are the bases of legal codes in many countries; thus, in these many countries, murder is outlawed and the murderer is aptly punished. Yet, religious justification is not always righteous. The United States was founded on Puritan-Christian principles; while our literacy rate and other aspects of our culture flourished, some Puritan tenets lent themselves to flagrant misinterpretations. Salem, Massachusetts was adapted to provide a safe-haven for Puritans. Religion in Salem was corrupted when its stringent individual permissions provoked a vicious hysteria.
Puritan faith is deemed an almost extremist creed for its zealous God-fearing mentality. Historically, the Puritan sect was a group of people who believed the English Reformation (England’s breaking away from the Catholic Church and the Pope) had not gone far enough and still sanctioned some Catholic convictions. The Puritans endorsed only ascetic lifestyles; they reproached not only others, but also themselves. To them, dressing expressively was sinful because it begged attention and did not live out God’s word, for God did not want self-important people. Moreover, they believed they were constantly being watched not just by God, but by the entire world: they were the City upon a Hill, God’s prototype and chosen people. The self-induced pressure on this culture was the primary catalyst to the Salem Witch Trials. Puritan social code was repressive in order to instill social discipline. Arthur Miller’s Abigail Williams and afflicted girls are the symbolic victims of the tyrannical rule of austerity: dancing and other forms of expression, because they were strictly forbidden, were translated as irrational behavior, for who would forsake God’s law if not possessed by the Devil? The girls danced and took part in what today’s standards would be acceptable behavior for young girls; however, due to the nature of their community, these activities were interpreted as aberrations: “Witchery’s a hangin’ error…you’ll only be whipped for dancing and other things” (Miller 18). The girls knew what they were doing was wrong from the very beginning, but they secretly engaged in the activities because that was their only way to communicate creatively; they channeled their repressed emotions through an unhealthy and antisocial conduit- to Puritan standards. When they were caught, their initial reaction was to lie to evade punishment: a simple action-reaction situation. Because they had always been subjugated, they realized that with these lies, they were now in power. One Abigail Williams soon realized that she could manipulate other people through deceit. A once oppressed Abigail perpetuated the Trials in response to her inhibitions. Many people would model her actions but for their own individual reasons.
Salem quickly spiraled into a bottomless pit of greed and revenge. People prolonged the Trial by accusing others as a way of lifting their own condemnations and escaping death. Only the honest few would refuse to succumb to the hysterical ongoings and stand by their morality. Nevertheless, Abigail had spawned a viral concept. Some people became cognizant of the idea that they could accuse others as a means of getting what they wanted. Thomas Putnam, for example, exploited his daughter; he strategically operated her to accuse certain people of witchcraft. Because he was a wealthy man, he was able to buy their land when they would not sell it to him. Though Giles Corey discovered and accused Putnam of “killing his neighbors for their land” (Miller 89), when asked to provide evidence, Corey chose to remain faithful to his beliefs and died as a consequence. The disintegration of piety in Salem was exemplified by hanging of the truly moral and selfless people.
Communities based purely on rigid religions or philosophies do not work. Unwavering and seemingly perfect authority has almost always been reformed at some point, if not destroyed (see: every monarchy ever to exist, American Transcendentalist communities, etc). The desire to break free of oppression, even when oppression is nearly infinitesimal, is the essence of humanity. The afflicted girls played in the forest against the consent of society, and when society went to punish them, they reacted defensively. It was when one of them finally became conscious, that she realized what she and the others should have had all along: freedom. Were Puritan faith not the autocratic creed that it was, would the Trials have ever begun?