WEEK SIX: Days One and Two
Beginnings of the American Literary Tradition:
Characteristics of American Literature during the Seventeenth Century
Purposes of Early American Writing
What is the importance of tolerance?
Are there times when you should lie?
Skills and Concepts
Objectives to stimulate critical thinking about
• Differences between guilt by evidence as opposed to guilt by association
• How laws for the public good can be made to further personal interests of specific individuals
• The role of individual power and status in establishing guilt or innocence
A. The class will view The History Channel’s Salem Witch Trials (fifty minutes).
B. Perhaps the most well known creative interpretation of the Salem witch trials is Arthur Miller's The Crucible. His interpretation focuses on just a few of the "real" characters from the events in Salem, but he takes many liberties with the facts, not the least of which is adjusting key characters' ages in order to accommodate a tale of adultery that is central to the play. Miller was writing during, and responding to, the "witch-hunts" of Communists during the McCarthyism of the 1950s.
The class will view the 1996 film version of The Crucible (30+ minutes per class period) and answer/discuss the following questions:
• Is the Rev. Parris simply a worried parent, or does he have other concerns?
• Support your opinion with examples.
• In Salem, an excellent public reputation is essential if one is to be accepted in the community. In the beginning of the play, what clues are there that Abigail's reputation has become questionable?
• Do Thomas Putnam and his wife seem to have reasons to be bitter about the course their lives have taken in Salem? Explain with examples.
• Describe the character of John Proctor. Is he independent or a follower? Honest, or hypocritical? How does he feel about himself, and why might he feel that way? Explain with examples.
• Describe some indicators of underlying conflicts between Parris and Proctor; between Proctor and Putnam.What significance do you predict these conflict could play in the story?
• What connotations might there be in Giles' questions to Rev. Hale about the meaning of his wife's reading habits? Are these intentional, or are Giles' questions innocent? Use quotes from the text to support your answers.
DISCUSSION: The principle accusers in The Crucible, are young, unmarried women. From what you've read so far, what can you deduce about the status of single women in Puritan society? Could the celebrity effect of allegedly being able to identify witches change their status? In what way?
• What is the central conflict that John Proctor faces?
• What does Elizabeth's observation that John's real court is in his own heart reveal to us about John's character?
• What evidence can be found that Abigail and her party of accusers (including Mary Warren) have undergone a change in status since the beginning of the play? Use examples to support your answer.
• Does the Rev. Hale still believe as firmly in the truth of the accusations, or is he beginning to have some doubts? Use examples to support your answer.
DISCUSSION: Somebody once said that the best defense is a good offense. Do you think that John Proctor may be hinting at this when he asks why the accusers are always innocent now? Explain your answer.
• It seems that every time John Proctor, Giles Corey, and Francis Nurse try to defend their wives, they are accused of trying to overthrow the court. What would Rev. Parris have to lose if the defense's case was seriously considered? What would Danforth and the judges have to lose?
• What does Abigail's refusal to answer Danforth's questions show about the status the trials have given her?
• We noted before that public reputation can make or break one in Salem. How is this importance of reputation reflected in Act III?
DISCUSSION: Some of Salem's accused got into trouble merely because they stood up for those who had been arrested. The court obviously believed in guilt by association. What do you think about the theory of guilt by association? Have you ever experienced it? Can it ever be valid? Explain your answer.
• Explain Danforth's course of logic in refusing to pardon the remaining prisoners. What might he have to lose by doing so?
• What would Proctor's confession do for Danforth and Hathorne? What's in it for Proctor by refusing to confess?
• What does Elizabeth mean when she says that John has his goodness now, and God forbid she should take it from him?
Some might say that, in John Proctor's case, honesty was definitely not the best policy. After all, he could not save his friends and was hanged in the end. But given what we know about John's character, how do you think his life would have gone if he had confessed?
Why was it that most of the accusers in Salem were adolescent girls and most of those they first accused women of middle age or older? What, if anything, might that indicate about the conflicts experienced by young women coming of age in early New England? About their relationships with their mothers and other mature female relatives? On the other hand, there were the magistrates and ministers, men of middle age and older who credited the girls’ accusations. What might account for their willingness to believe that seemingly respectable and godly women in Salem Village were guilty of witchcraft?
The Puritan idea of Americans as the second Chosen People of God has played an important and lasting role in the views of Americans about their own country and the views of those abroad about the way in which the United States has employed the idea of the City on the HTeacher's Resources
For general background on this period, the EDSITEment-reviewed Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive is an invaluable source. This website contains such resources as seventeenth-century documents, including court records and personal letters, and historical maps, including an interactive map of Witchcraft Accusations from February 29 to March 31, 1692.
American Collection: An Educators Site
Resources on Arthur Miller's The Crucible
Arthur Miller, "Why I wrote The Crucible."
American Studies at the University of Virginia
Internet Public Library
TeacherServe from the National Humanities Center
Divining America: Religion and The National Culture
"Witchcraft in Salem Village: Intersections of Religion and Society"
Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive