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José Féron Romano

1. “They believed, in short, that they held in their steady hands the candle that would light the world.” (Act One) This quotation is from Miller’s long introduction at the beginning of the play. Though these are words not spoken in the actual play, this note from the author is critical, particularly in establishing the parallel between the Salem of 1692 and the Washington of the 1950s. In both cases, prominent leaders believed that they were protecting a society and way of life that was not just good, but could be a model for the rest of the world. The metaphor of the candle is telling, as it implies a darkness threatening the light. When one thinks of one’s mission as defending the light of the world, it is easy to justify extreme measures.

2.There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!” (Act One) Ann Putnam’s statement—spoken in reference to what is, in her mind, the unsolved murder of her seven dead newborns—captures in vivid language the paranoid and conspiratorial mindset that allows a witch-hunt to take root. She is eager to see in the smallest things signs of some hidden evil plot.

3. “We cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are definite as stone…” (Act One) Though later events show his approach to be anything but scientific, Reverend Hale at first comes across as a deliberate man who approaches things with a methodical and objective mind. Part of the method of any collective madness is to dress up superstition as science.

4. “We must all love each other now, Goody Proctor.” (Act Two) These touching and ironic words are spoken by Mary Warren after she has returned to the Proctors from a full day in Salem at the witch trials, and show her to be an important emotional center of the story. While she is carried away by the fervor of the witch-hunt and believes (for the moment) in the court’s mission, she has seen an old woman condemned to hang and feels a deep sadness for this suffering and the greater suffering to come. Her innocent but wise words are profoundly ironic, because the townspeople proceed to do the exact opposite.

5. “Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small.” (Act Two) When John Proctor is unable to recite all Ten Commandments from memory, Reverend Hale refuses to allow any forgiveness or moderation toward this relatively small failing. When one has decided that one is up against the ultimate evil, no weakness or misstep can be tolerated. Such a point of view is common in any extremist movement.

6. “Is the accuser always holy now?” (Act Two) John Proctor is stunned by Reverend Hale’s willingness to believe everything that Abigail says. With this line he sums up the way a fearful and paranoid climate can undermine the presumption of innocence that is at the heart of our legal system. In the midst of a witch-hunt, the accuser is given the benefit of the doubt, and the accused must prove his innocence.

7. “Is every defense an attack upon the court?” (Act Three) By this point, Reverend Hale has become the voice of reason. He is identifying how, in the hysteria of a witch-hunt, any kind of dissent or questioning is treated as an act of disloyalty.

8. “A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth!” (Act Three) This is a fascinating passage, spoken by John Proctor at the close of Act Three when it is clear that there is no way for him to defend himself any longer. While he makes use of the kind of Biblical, apocalyptic language used by his accusers, he is in fact describing something much more subtle: how the root of evil lies in each of our hearts, and not in some malevolent invading force.

10. “How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” (Act Four) This is John Proctor’s realization in prison that there is a line that he will not cross. As in the McCarthy hearings, the naming of names bears huge significance. Naming another’s name is the ultimate betrayal of another, and lending one’s own name to a statement that justifies an unjust inquiry is the ultimate betrayal of oneself.

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