Introduction to the Puritans and The Crucible Beach, Olson, & Smith
It is the expectation of this course that you will actively pursue understanding of the historic and philosophical context into which literature is born. Therefore, you will comprehend how literature reflects our growing nation at each “pulse point” and influences American attitudes even today. Authors take license with history for the sake of storytelling and presenting the theme on their personal agenda. You will react to the content of the theme as well as the way the author tells his/her story. So, when you sense boredom or feel impatient with the writing, focus your attention on the message and the context of the tale.
We begin with a play, set in colonial America. Arthur Miller’s drama The Crucible has its feet in two eras of time, Puritanical New England Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and Cold War Washington of the 1950’s. Miller presents America’s deepest past in order to make a modern point. He saw that, as the saying goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Learning about the historical setting of the play will make Miller’s contemporary application a deeper experience for you. It will allow you to reflect on our own times and address current, similar issues with more compassion and responsibility.
Who were the Puritans? • Definition: Refers to the movement for reform, which occurred within the Church of England between the time of Elizabeth and Charles II. • The Puritans wanted to rid the Church of any Catholic residue and build upon the ideas of John Calvin. When Elizabeth died and Charles II dissolved parliament, and any connection between church and state, he demanded that anyone be killed who did not support the new Anglican Church. Hence, religious persecution began for the Puritans. • Left for the new world in 1620 and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Puritans, Pilgrims, & Planters • Puritans: Varied group of religious reformers wanting change within the church • Pilgrims: Version of Puritans, but they were separatists—wanted separation from the Church of England (e.g. Quakers) • Planters: Cavaliers who still wanted to be part of England—continued to dress and act in English manner
The Puritan community was a theocracy, a government which blends church and state. The church’s officials were the government’s officials. Thus, church and state were not separate. The Puritans sought to “purify” the church. That is, by stripping off the ceremony, pageantry and human interpretation from the “corrupt” church, the Puritans thus returned focus to the relationship between God and Mankind. In many ways, it was an attempt to create a utopiansociety.
Theological Beliefs Espoused by the Puritans These beliefs originated in Calvinism. • Total depravity: Humankind is totally sinful through the fall of Adam and utterly unable to work out their own redemption. • Unconditional election (Predestination): God is under no obligation to save anyone. He saves or “elects” those who he wills with no reference to good works. • Limited atonement: Christ died only for the elect. • Irresistible grace: God’s free grace is neither earned nor refused. Anyone who has it, has it. • Perseverance of saints: Those whom God has chosen have thenceforth full power to do the will of God and the ability to live uprightly to the end.
The Puritan Dilemma • “Puritanism required: • That a man devote his life to seeking salvation but told him • he was helpless to do anything evil. • That he rest his whole hope in Christ but taught him that Christ would utterly reject him unless before he was born, God had foreordained his salvation. • That man refrain from sin but told him he would sin anyhow. • That he reform the world in the image of God’s holy kingdom but taught him that the evil of the world was incurable and inevitable. • That he work to the best of his ability at what ever task was set before him and partake of the good things that God had filled the world with but told him he must enjoy his work and his pleasures only, as if it were, absentmindedly, with attention fixed on God. • Edmund S. Morgan, Historian
Myths about the Puritans • Myth 1: The Puritans forbid all sorts of sins (sex, alcohol, theater) • In truth: The Puritans believed in loving relationships, moderation, and avoidance of potentially sinful encounters. In general, they saw life as for work, rather than pleasure. However, they were not morose. They wore colored clothes, had games and celebrations.
Myth 2: The Puritan government denied free speech and religious freedom • In truth: While the Puritans believed that transgressions deserved immediate punishment, they allowed for discussion of ideas. Although women did not vote, they spoke through their husbands. Their theocracy was not imposed on those outside the community. For them, Faith was their rock.
Myth 3: Puritans were dogmatic and anti-intellectual. • In truth: They taught all their children to read, started Harvard College, read philosophers, poets and dramatists of antiquity. They also were not threatened by scientific advances, experiment and logic. Puritans valued intellect. They believed in achievement. • Myth 4: Puritans burned witches and others at the stake. • In truth: Although they executed individuals (25 in total), none were burned. One was tortured to death, five died in prison, and nineteen were hanged. They believed in a well-ordered society, a sort of religious athlete.
Myth 5: Puritans were self-righteous hypocrites. In truth: While some were, others were genuinely virtuous with the majority somewhere in the middle. There is no doubt, however, that the extremes could influence those in the middle, at least for a time.
Salem Town vs. Salem Village Salem Politics • Economic Unrest caused many conflicts • Salem Town: Modern; stylish; wealthy • Salem Village: Fortunes diminished due to contesting of wills and division of land boundaries; farmers • 1689: Parris becomes reverend • 1691: Villagers vow to push Parris from town and stop contributing to his salary
The Salem Witch Trials, 1692 • Innocent prank caused mass hysteria during time of unrest • Hysteria implies Puritans deep belief in supernatural • Puritans cannot handle anything threatening the quest for perfection/religious purity (magic is out of place) • Puritans brought pre-existing ideas about women & magic to colonies • Women = evil & sexual--targets for Devil
Signs of Puritan Decay • Visible decay of godliness • Manifestations of pride,especially among the rich • Violations of the Sabbath • Rise in contentious lawsuits • Sins of sex and alcohol on the rise • Decay in business morality – laborers underpaid, lying, etc • Lack of desire to reform
The Crucible is a play by Arthur Miller which explores the Salem Witch Trials. A Crucible is a severe test. It does not maintain authentic situations from the historical events. However, it does demonstrate how hysteria and blind faith can corrupt individuals, even those with good intentions.
The play is social commentary made by Miller in response to the McCarthy Un-American, witch hunt trials of the 1950’s. "The reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because the enemy has sent men to invade our shores, but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest nation on earth has had to offer - the finest homes, the finest college educations, and the finest jobs in Government we can give."