The setting of The Crucible is Salem, Massachusetts in 1692; specifically at the height of the Salem Witch Trials. Salem, a colony in 17th century colonial Massachusetts, was originally part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the largest and most economically important of all the early colonies in New England. Eventually, it evolved into the larger settlement known as the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1692.
At this time in history, Salem was populated by Puritans or a group of English Reformed Protestants who came over from England to create settlements of their own to “purify” the Church of England from its Catholic practices. Puritans believed in the idea of predestination, the idea that God is all-powerful and all knowing; meaning that everyone’s fate is sealed by God at birth. They also believed in conversion, or the process in which God would save the chosen to experience His grace.
The Puritans that first came over consisted mainly of families that intended to build a society based on their religious beliefs. In this society, colonial leaders were elected by the freemen (men who were members of the church in the Bay colony) of the colony. These leaders were prominent members of their congregations and regularly met with the local minster on issues that came up regarding the colony. The government in the Massachusetts Bay colony was a theocracy, “a form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God’s or deity’s laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities.” An elected legislature was established, and although ministers were prohibited from holding political office, many important decisions were made by the clergy.
As for society, the supernatural was considered part of everyday life. People believed in Satan and his presence on earth in various forms. From 1560 to 1670, witchcraft persecutions became common, as superstitions became associated with the devil. These persecutions occurred well before the Salem Witch Trials began and showed how such superstitions affected these newfound communities. Specifically at the time, there were multiple disputes between Salem Village (Danvers) and Salem Town (Salem) over things such as property lines, grazing rights, church privileges, and other neighbor issues.
A combination of multiple outlying circumstances, the belief of witchcraft spread easily. The idea of witches were present in Europe as early as the 14th century and carried into the new settlements of Massachusetts. Additionally, the harsh realities of rural Puritan life and the after-effects of the British war with France, plus a smallpox epidemic, on top of the fear of Native American attacks added to the tension of the witchcraft scare.
The Salem witch trials officially began during the spring of 1692, when a group of young girls from Salem Village claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several local women of witchcraft. This started the wave of mass hysteria in the area and over the next several months, over 150 men, women, and children were accused. The trials were fueled by the settler’s suspicions of and resentment toward their neighbors, and also their fear of outsiders.
In the Puritan life of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, men were the ultimate rulers through theocracy. Women did not participate in town meetings and were excluded from decision making in the church. Male supremacy was furthered by Puritan ministers who preached it through their sermons saying that the soul had two parts, the immortal masculine half, and the mortal feminine half. Puritan law was extremely strict, and both men and women could be severely punished for their crimes. This patriarchal society was ever so present, even though life events such as pregnancy.
Women who were pregnant with a male child were said to have a rosy complexion and those carrying a female child were pale. Even names of women found in the census reports included names that reflected Puritan views on women such as Patience, Silence, Fear, Prudence, and Comfort. Puritans were expected to attend church and those who missed regularly were subject to a fine. The sermon was not only a place to worship, but also served a bit as a town hall, with people addressing town problems or concerns.
Puritans were not light with their punishments. They believed in Old Testament methods including public whippings, hangings, and the stockade. On a brighter note, Puritans did occasionally have celebrations and festivals. Children could play games with their parent’s permission, people drank, sang, and told stories. Also against common belief, Puritans did not dress in all black all the time; their main rule was to follow God’s law.
So much of the setting, both through the society and government of the time affects the character of Elizabeth Proctor who is living during the time of Puritan Salem. First off, the fact that the government was a theocracy meant that God’s power was shown through men, therefore meaning that men had the ultimate power in this society. This definitely means that John wore the pants in the relationship, at least from a societal point of view and that Elizabeth was to be a dutiful housewife. Under all aspects of society, was Elizabeth to be obedient and there for her husband.
I find this completely interesting given the fact that Elizabeth chose to dismiss of Abigail, something that would definitely be frowned upon in her position and also something to be put in the hands of John as the man of the household. At the same time, he committed adultery and if word got out he could be subjected to harsh punishment.
Additionally, given the role of women during the time, it makes sense that Elizabeth is to be reserved and dutiful. As a women at the time, she would have little to no freedoms in terms of holding any power of her own unless it pertained to her domestic tasks. Being a woman, Elizabeth is also quite susceptible to accusation of witchcraft; even though she is said to be a steadfast and dutiful woman.
Although, the mention of her and John having missed church a couple times, during their initial questioning, shows the societal importance of church. Something else to note that further emphasizes not only Elizabeth’s love for John, but her wifely duty to him, lies in the end of the show. While she doesn’t want to see him dead, she also accepts and supports his choice to accept his guilt and fate, demonstrating the Puritan belief she and John would have in predestination.