Personal Expediency Among the Puritans
Within the Puritan society of the seventeenth century, the fear of the Devil fueled the actions of individuals; this idea is reflected in two significant works of literature, A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks and The Crucible by Arthur Miller. This idea of devilish influence is exemplified by the actions of Josiah Bont (for Brooks) and Abigail Williams (for Miller). On the contrary, the virtuous character of Reverend Hale in The Crucible contradicts this common trait of personal expediency.
Josiah Bont, Anna Frith’s father, found that instead of assisting those who were ill with tasks such as farming, ensuring their deaths would be a much easier way to take their belongings and obtain money. A young girl, Merry Wickford, was left alone and starving upon the death of her entire family. Anna found the young girl and asked for Josiah’s help in retrieving lead from Merry’s family’s mine to pay for food. Unsurprisingly, Josiah refused to help anyone in need. Josiah even went to the extent of burying Christopher Unwin alive in order to steal Christopher’s property. Christopher survived, a turn of events which caused Josiah to receive the ultimate punishment for his wrongdoings: as one village authority states, “And so our code has penalty enough to deter greedy hands. Your hands have been uncommonly greedy” (Brooks 203). The people of Eyam saw that the only fitting punishment was to stab knives through Josiah’s hands so that he could never again use them for theft or selfishness. The loss of Josiah’s hands, perhaps, allowed him to realize that all of the material objects in the world were not worth the cost of his life.
Abigail Williams indicates throughout the entirety of The Crucible that her morals were deeply suppressed by her personal expediency. When the whispers of witchcraft began in Salem, she saw this situation as a perfect time for her love with John Proctor to flourish again. Abigail’s accusations began as a direct result of fear. She feared the punishment she would receive for drinking a spell to kill Elizabeth Proctor, John’s wife, along with trying to cast a spell on John in order to make him love her. As a result, many innocent people were falsely accused of bewitching her and her friends to perform non Puritan-like and perhaps even non-Christian activities. She even went to the extent of accusing her uncle’s slave, Tituba, of witchcraft to avoid taking any responsibility for her wrongdoings: “HALE. What are you concealing? Have you sold yourself to Lucifer? ABIGAIL. I never sold myself! I’m a good girl! I’m a proper girl! She made me do it! She made Betty do it!” (Miller 43). Abigail acted childishly by completely blaming Tituba because she knew that Tituba, as a slave, could not accuse her of lying. Since Abigail was seen as the superior, Tituba was forced to account for the “unholy” actions which took place in the forest. When John came to Salem to assist in the witch trials, Abigail went to the extent of pulling him aside and declaring her love and need to be with him. Seeing the temptress she was, John denied any possibility of a relationship with Abigail. This rejection caused Abigail to become bitter towards him and resulted in Elizabeth’s arrest for witchcraft. Even at the dire end of the play, Abigail feels no remorse for her actions.
During the year 1692, no one was safe from the accusations of witchcraft, not even a Puritan minister. Reverend Hale was a well respected member of the Salem community and a very holy man, so holy that he never had to fear the Devil. His only fear was being shunned by the people of Salem, so he kept quiet about his suspicions that the witchcraft accusations were simply lies. However, he realized by the end of the play that Abigail and her tribe of girls had indeed fabricated all of the accusations. He knew that it was his duty as a man of God to stop the delusions. As a result, Reverend Hale swallowed his pride and attempted to convince Judge Hawthorne that every “witch” was innocent: “HALE. Goody Proctor, I have gone this three month like our Lord into the wilderness. I have sought a Christian way, for damnation’s doubled on a minister who counsels men to lie. HAWTHORNE. It is a lie, you cannot speak of lies. HALE. It is a lie! They are innocent!” (Miller 132). By telling Judge Hawthorne about the girls’ acts, Hale assumed that the people of Salem would respect him for saving them from the real problem: the girls. Unfortunately, he was not taken seriously, and this response caused all of his decisions to be viewed as wrong.
The results of these characters’ expediencies all ended poorly. Josiah Bont was left to bleed out by his own family because he was taken over by greed. Abigail Williams had to flee Salem and could not end up with her apparent love. Despite his attempts to put others before himself, Reverend Hale could not continue the work of God because of his choice to maintain the good reputation of his name. Even when a character, such as Reverend Hale, tried to value others rather than himself, he still suffered the wrath of the Puritans. His reversal came too late. These characters show that if people do not care about how their actions affect others and only care about themselves, the punishments for these actions are ensured.
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