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Relevance in Modern Society
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"Their creed forbade anything resembling a theater or “vain enjoyment.”...This predilection for minding other people’s business was time-honored among the people of Salem, and it undoubtedly created many of the suspicions which were to feed the coming madness...The edge of the wilderness was close by. The American continent stretched endlessly west, and it was full of mystery for them. It stood, dark and threatening, over their shoulders night and day." (I, 1235)
Abigail: "We did dance, uncle, and when you leaped out of the bush so suddenly, Betty
was frightened and then she fainted. And there’s the whole of it.
Parris: Now look you, child, your punishment will come in its time. But if you trafficked with spirits in the forest, I must know it now, for surely my enemies will, and they will ruin me with it." (I, 1238)
The exposition is the beginning of the play when Abigail is confronted by Parris. It gives background information that will be built upon in the following acts. Through the exposition it is discovered that Parris saw the girls with Tituba dancing in the forest which spurs the townspeople's accusation of witchcraft. Along with the initial first scene the background information presented before the first scene, in standard format, also details important information about the background of the town and people. Issues are discussed such as the religious fervor, theocracy, the importance of reputation, and even the town's problem with land disputes. The land disputes and other issues are power gaining tools that are important when considering the townspeople's ulterior motives for starting and continuing the witch-hunts. In the exposition the conflict is first presented as man vs. society. With such a paranoid and unstable environment it is obvious that the protagonist will have to confront the issues in the society.
"I want to open myself! I want light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus; I kiss His hand- I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!" (II, 1262)
The rising action follows the exposition and builds upon it while leading towards the climax. In
the rising action is the scene in which Abigail and Betty first begin to accuse others of witchcraft. The start of the witch-hunts is the rising action because it is the catalyst for story progression. The girls are able to not only deflect blame, but they are also able to gain a power they never possessed before. Most of the accusers are people who have no authority nor respect in society, for example, Tituba is a slave from Barbados but once the witch-hunts begin she is feared for her mystical knowledge. She is able to frighten her slave owner (Parris) with her visions of white men enslaved and tortured by the devil. Once the hysteria swept over the town these lower class citizens were given an opportunity to enact revenge. In the rising action scene Abigail has realized this secret and beings to use it to her advantage; this scene is a shift from the paranoid suspicious calm of the exposition and a push towards the climax which will be the effect of all this madness on the protagonist.
"Mary: You are the Devil’s man!
Danforth: He bid you do the Devil’s work?
Mary: He came to me by night and every day to sign, to sign, to…
Danforth: Sign what?
Mary: My name, he want my name; 'I’ll murder you', he says, 'if my wife hangs! We must go and overthrow the court, he says…!'
" (III, 1314)
The climax is the moment of greatest danger for the protagonist. During the climax it seems as if failure is inevitable and there is a hard-to-anticipate recovery. In
it is the scene in which Proctor, our protagonist, is accused of witchcraft by his former ally, Mary Warren. Mary was Proctor and Elizabeth's one hope to stop the girls from continuing the witch-hunts by confessing that their visions and accusations were all false. However, Mary Warren is a weak character who was easily manipulated by Abigail from the start, she like Abigail is a lower class citizen, an unmarried woman forced to work for others. While in the courtroom Mary Warren is unable to testify against Abigail and the other girls because in doing so she would have to admit her own guilt and soil her reputation while also giving up her one chance to obtain power. Mary Warren cracks under the pressure of Abigail Williams' tremendous new power. Mary turns from Proctor, to join Abigail, in her moment of weakness. This act of betrayal puts the protagonist Proctor in a dangerous predicament as he is torn between preserving his reputation or preserving his life.
Hale: "Let you not mistake your duty as I mistook my own. Life, life is God’s most precious gift; no principle no matter how glorious may justify the taking of it." (IV, 1326)
The falling action is the outcome of the climax that eventually leads to the resolution. The falling action in
, is Hale's plea with Proctor to sign testifying that he himself is a witch while also convicting six other prisoners of witchcraft. Thus repeating the ritual of deflecting guilt by accusing someone else- the same cycle that has occurred throughout the play. The scene in which Hale goes to talk with Proctor leads up to the outcome and possible resolutions for the main danger of the climax. The falling action of Hale's plea sets up the resolution which will be the response to that decision. Will Proctor blame an innocents just to keep his name clean? More importantly, will the protagonist continue the cycle of false accusations? During the falling action Hale is frantically searching for people to confess to validate the accusations made by the court. Danforth and Hathorne are unable to accept that the judgements are faulty because in doing so the integrity of the court would be shattered and the theocracy would be questioned and the religious order of Salem would be shattered.
Dénouement / Resolution
Proctor: "Damn the village! I confess to God and God has seen my name on this! It is enough!
You came to save my soul, did you not? Here! – I have confessed myself, it is enough!
Is there no good penitence but it be public? God does not need my name nailed upon the church! God sees my name; God knows how black my sins are. It is enough!" (IV, 1332)
The purpose of the resolution is to resolve the conflict and create a catharsis for the audience. Etymologically, the French word denouement is derived from the Old French word dénoer, “to untie”, and from nodus, Latin for “knot”. Thus, it is the purpose of the dénouement to untie the complexities of a plot. The conflict of man vs society is resolved in the denouement as Proctor is able to defeat the society by choosing to stop its cycle of false accusations. He is willing to accept death rather than live in falsehood. Proctor is unwilling to transfer his own guilt and his unwillingness to sign his own name and jeopardize his identity. Earlier in the play Proctor’s desire to preserve his good reputation kept him from testifying against Abigail but now at the resolution, Proctor is able to come to realization of what it truly means to be honorable and have a good reputation. Proctor has atoned for his tragic flaw, his wonton lust for Abigail Williams and is able to regain his honesty and goodness. Proctor dies as a martyr, and in a sense of justice the resolution also shows that the unjust, Parris and Abigail, are destroyed by their guilt and Salem has fallen apart. The farms have become vacant, demonstrating how Proctor’s heroic death has created a just end and punished the wrong-doers.
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