Historical importance

It may seem quite surprising that the witch hysteria occurred in a culture as religious as New England’s, but in fact it is their oppressed Puritanical society which helped manoeuvre the bizarre witchcraft trial. Puritans combined their faith with a belief in witchcraft and alleged that one or another person was one of Satan’s agents, bent on bringing harm to the community. They lived in an era of belief in the devil as a physical being who was incarnate, there to seduce them from the path of righteousness. The starting point which caused Salem’s witch hysteria in The Crucible and Witch Child, seems to be rivalry which later on become jealousy from the two girl leaders Abigail Williams and Deborah Vane.

One was jealous of Goody Proctor ‘You drank blood, Abby! …You drank a charm to kill John Proctor’s wife!’ the other one was jealous of Rebekah ‘I want Tobias…I want you to put a curse on Rebekah. Make a poppet. Stick pins in it.’ The idea of poppet is very significant in witchcraft as it was known to be a tool of torture used to curse a victim and inflict them with pain as needles were placed in the poppet, this reference is also apparent in The Crucible ‘A poppet was discovered in Mr Proctor’s house, stabbed by a needle’. It is evident that these witchcraft accusations are similarly portrayed by Miller and Rees, we first notice in both texts the common practice of dancing naked where ‘Abigail leads the girls to the woods…and they have danced there naked’ this scene from The Crucible echoes the moment when ‘Deborah and Hannah Vane…and others were found in a barn, dancing naked’ in Witch Child.

As the two leaders and their group of friends had to defend themselves in court, the girls’ madness started when Abigail felt ‘A wind, a cold wind…I freeze, I freeze! …Oh, Heavenly Father, take away this shadow!’ this once again reflects Hannah Vane’s behaviour who claimed Mary was afflicting her ‘She shadows me! I freeze! Freeze! …They are cold’ This demonstrates their determination in seeking attention, yet Abigail continued her masquerade ‘Why do you come, yellow bird?’ and Hannah was waving her hands ‘Now she is a bird!’ The yellow bird is significant because it refers back to the real Witchcraft trial in Salem, in which Ann Putnam rejoined the accusers by shouting ‘Look where Goodwife Cloyce sits on the beam suckling her yellow bird between her fingers!’ This statement demonstrates how insane the girl’s accusations were becoming and nothing could stop them.

The close reference between the two texts suggests the constant similarities each writer made to emphasizes the insanity, absurdity and power these young Puritan girls had. At the present time, this could be read as a critic where the Puritan’s deeply imbedded religious beliefs about Satan came into play, which in reality led to the infamous witch trials that ended in twenty innocent lives lost and one hundred-fifty imprisoned.

These insane and excessive accusations contributed strongly to undermining the validity of the trials, the girl’s actions also started to be questionable for misbehaviour in churches which is also described in both The Crucible and Witch Child; Abigail ‘In the sight of the congregation were twice this year put out of this meeting’ house for laughter during prayer’ this parallels Hannah Vane’s behaviour in Witch Child who ‘has been removed twice from Sunday Service for interrupting sermons, talking loudly, then falling to giggling and laughing uncontrollably’ It is evident that both authors Rees and Miller have similarly portrayed the frenzy of these afflicted girls and the Witch craft hysteria, which efficiently reflects the extreme repression of the Puritanical society at that time.

Another concept of the Puritan society is reputation, rumour and superstition which are tremendously significant in Salem; the city where public and private moralities are one and the same. In an environment where reputation plays such an important role, the fear of guilt by association becomes particularly pernicious. Focused on maintaining public reputation, the townsfolk of Salem must fear that the sins of their friends and associates will taint their names. Various characters base their actions on the desire to protect their respective reputations.

In The Crucible John Proctor seeks to keep his good name from being tarnished as early in the play, he had a chance to put a stop to the girls’ accusations, but his desire to preserve his reputation keeps him from testifying against Abigail. However at the end of the play Proctor’s desire to keep his good name leads him to make the heroic choice to be totally honest and go to his death without signing his name to an untrue statement ‘I have given you my soul; leave me my name!’ he cries to Danforth in Act IV; by refusing to relinquish his name, he redeems himself for his earlier failure and dies with integrity. Celia Rees also depicts the society of Witch Child for their fear of maintaining a good name and reputation ‘There’s been talk. I told you there would be’.

This is apparent when Martha helps Goody Johnson in giving birth ‘To be a midwife, to be a healer, brings danger…those that heal can harm, that’s what they whisper, those that cure can kill’ this shows the severity of Puritan beliefs and how their society is entirely based on evil superstition ‘He says that someone has given them the Evil Eye’ Puritans believed the Devil was once an angel of God who had fallen from grace, therefore even the most religious puritans were not safe from being accused of working with the Devil and false allegation could be made on anyone.

Having written the play The Crucible in 1953 Arthur Miller was influenced by the modern American society of this time, also known as the McCarthy era. However the play itself occurs around the seventeenth century, this period of time when Puritans were unfairly put to trial seems to reflect the absurdity of the McCarthy era, in which Miller wrote this play. I therefore believe Arthur Miller deliberately used the choice of historical witch trial event in the seventeenth century to criticize the society in which he was living.

Through The Crucible, Miller allowed the audience to be aware of the parallel between the Salem events and the modern society at this time, the McCarthy era did not learn from the past by reproducing a similar ‘witch hunt’ scenario in 1950s. On the other hand Celia Rees did not seem to have the same critical purpose when writing Witch Child as she was simply fascinated by her studies in American History, however she still may have had a hidden purpose or moral behind her novel; examples of the McCarthy era show that even though the belief in witchcraft has disappeared over time, similar events to the Salem witch trials occur even in our time, therefore they have not lost their historical importance and we cannot ignore them. As a conclusion, it has been demonstrated that Celia Rees and Arthur Miller have both wrote the stories of Witch child and The Crucible around the seventeenth century witchcraft trial in Salem, and although their purpose and narration were different when writing the text, their portrayal of Puritans in the Salem events have a very similar depiction in their belief, the way society was governed, their idea of women and the witchcraft trial.

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