The Salem witch hunts were perverse manifestations of panic and hysteria which set in among the classes when the balance began to turn towards personal freedom.
Millar uses the character of Proctor to examine the idea of morality in society by putting him in a moral dilemma with conflicting interests. He desires another woman yet his moral code and the hegemony of the society argue against his natural desires when Proctor quotes parts of the bible by telling Abigail “I will cut off my hand before ill ever reach for you again”. This is a demonstration of how the society in Salem has no forgiveness mechanism
Millar’s writing style includes long explanations of characters backgrounds and stances on issues and Proctor is no exception. When Millar introduces Proctor he gives us an explanation of what he is like. Proctor is “powerful of body” “even tempered” and “not easily led” yet despite this the audience realises he is also quick to use violence to teach discipline and for this he is “respected and even feared” in Salem.
Towards the end of Millar’s explanation the audience are quick to realise he isn’t such a perfect man as we learn of the character’s affair with Abigail, which is adultery, a cardinal Sin. Proctor thinks of himself as “a kind of fraud”, “a sinner against moral fashion” and “his own vision of decent conduct” because the people of Salem had no forgiveness mechanism yet they looked up to Proctor as a symbol, as something to aspire to become and despite this we admire his willingness to accept his own personal responsibility for his actions. With this Millar seems to want his central character to be aware of Sin as part of his human natures and to draw the reader’s sympathy to his human suffering.
It is Proctor’s flaw that makes him both human and able to criticise a society that tries to exclude all personal desires and differences, deeming them as immoral and wrong. This is illustrated by his arguments with Putnam and Parris. When confronted with snide comments about not attending the Sabbath he replies “/ I have trouble enough without I come five miles to hear him preach only hellfire and bloody damnation.” In doing this, Millar draws out attention to the paradox which shows us the way in which society’s moral boundaries tend to isolate individuals rather than uniting them as people seek power and control, this is done by Parris through fear of Hell “there is either obedience or the church will burn like Hell is burning!” and in this constant search for power there is suspicion and paranoia which is also demonstrated through Parris “There is a party in this church. I am not blind; there is a faction and a party”
When Abigail and the girls are caught in the woods dancing it would have been especially frowned upon as the people of Salem shunned all forms of vain entertainment, “their creed forbade anything resembling a theatre of vain enjoyment”. The people of Salem also feared the virgin forests because “the Salem folk believed that the virgin forest was the Devil’s last preserver, his home base and the citadel of his final stand”. Millar does this to show the power of Salem’s hegemony and the severity of how much they kept themselves regulated and ‘pure’ meaning if you broke the regulations and rules you were casted out, banished and shunned. This is a direct link to McCarthyism with McCarthy shunned and banishing people suspected of ‘un-American activities’.
In Salem there were many petty feuds, showing an immoral and broken society. Millar shows us this through the characters of Proctor, Putnam and Giles by putting them in a situation of aggression because Putnam is greedy and his ancestors gave away land that they did not own. During this argument Putnam threatens Proctor and Giles by telling them “you load one oak of mine and you’ll fight to drag it home”. Long held hatreds could now be openly expressed and vengeance be taken. “Land-lust” which had previously been constant bickering over boundaries and deeds was elevated to a plane of morality, where one could cry witch against anyone and feel morally just. The strains on morality in the society which at first needed these restraints to survive, yet as surviving became easier and they tamed the land around them the restraints were no longer needed, yet people still wanted no responsibility for their actions. This scapegoat came in the form of the Devil and through the Salem witch trials, with Abigail her sister Betty beginning it in a fit of mass hysteria, with them screaming and shouting names.
This hysteria means the girls genuinely believe that they are possessed, or have been as their mind plays tricks on them, almost like a defence mechanism as Abigail witnesses the threats made against Tituba of hanging and being whipped to death and then the rest of the girls were seized in a fit of hysteria which gave way to witnessing the power they had over society by naming innocents as accomplices of the Devil. There was no refuting these accusations as Danforth had explained; the only witnesses to the crime were the children themselves.