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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes
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ACT IV, SCENE 8

Danforth bustles in with Hathorne, Hale, and Parris. Cheever
follows with paper and pen to take down the confession. Proctor
is horrified at their efficiency and glee; he hates giving these
"dogs," as he calls them, what they want. But though his jaws
lock on him for a moment, he gets out the basics: the Devil
came to him and bid him do his work on earth. Proctor won't get
any further than this in his confession.

NOTE: All of Act IV has been leading up to this moment. But
let's stop and think. Isn't there a problem with these
"confessions" in the first place? Remember in Act II, when Mary
Warren first described the witch trials, she said that Goody
Osburn would hang, but that Sarah Good was saved because
she confessed?

In most legal systems, confession is considered conclusive proof
of guilt, meaning no other evidence is necessary to convict the
accused. Conviction leads to sentencing, and in this case the
law clearly states what the punishment for witchcraft is to be:
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Sarah Good convicted
herself when she confessed. How is it that she is "suffered to
live"?



The flaw in the logic is obvious, as we noted in the discussion of
Act II. "There are them that will swear to anything before they'll
hang," as Proctor said then, and as he is thinking of doing now.
If the court is really trying to get at the truth, it just doesn't
make sense to offer such an irresistible inducement to life.

But remember how difficult it is to prove the "invisible crime" of
witchcraft. There are only two witnesses, the witch and the
victim. If the judges can get the witch to confess, it will release
the victim from suffering, and spare the judges a difficult
decision. In addition, a confession is, ipso facto-to use
Danforth's terminology-a renunciation of witchcraft. With a
confession, the judges not only spared a victim, they rescued a
soul from hell.

This reasoning doesn't completely answer the objection, but it
does give some idea of how the judges see the situation.
Hathorne may be narrow-minded and bitter, but he's not blood-
thirsty. And Danforth is more concerned than anyone with
doing the right thing-not only legally, but as a man who has
considerable power over the souls of others.

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