Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
Act III further develops the profiles of the play's main characters. The manipulative skills of Abigail, the self-righteousness of Danforth and his eagerness to carry out his duties, the pettiness and prejudice of Hathorne and Parris, and the growing disillusionment of Hale contribute to the terrible tragedy of the drama.
In this act, Miller fully unfurls his theme of the dangers of combining temporal and religious powers in the hands of a few. In that sense, this act can be deemed to be the central one of the play. The church, as represented by Parris and Hale, and the law, as represented by Danforth and Hathorne, are shown to be hollow and false. Parris uses the trial as an opportunity to increase his power and punish his enemies. Danforth and Hathorne show their arrogance and rigidity and refuse to let anyone question the court’s proceedings or its authority; “a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it.” Even the one fairly good institutional representative, Hale, is shown to be lacking in moral strength, for though he questions the authority and logic of the court and eventually quits the proceedings, he does not do enough to stop the witch hunt or the hangings.
The two institutions on which the Puritan society rests are both shown to be corrupt and inadequate. The Crucible suggests that a society in which the very foundations are crumbling cannot survive for long and will, by necessity, stumble upon itself and its own contradictions. Although belief in witches was very real, the witch hunt in Salem is in part a facade that has at its real aim revenge, power, and economic gain. What started as a silly pretension ends in disaster.