The Path To Hell Essay, Research Paper
The Witchcraft trials in 1692, which infested the small town of Salem Massachusetts, can most definitely be placed among the most absurd events in the history of the United States. Though Witchcraft was never proved to be the cause of this mysterious chain of events, one can wonder whether if in fact the Devil was present in this vile scheme. Arthur Miller recounts this horrid tale in his powerful drama, The Crucible, in which a simple hoax inspired by a few girls is augmented exponentially by the sins that lurk within the souls of each individual. With almost every citizen focused either on their own salvation or insistent upon the corruption of another, even the greatest authorities are fooled, and the fabrication is allowed to escalate into an endless chain of accusations and denials. Before the truth is finally brought to light, twenty citizens are executed in a futile attempt to reveal a Devil?s associate who never existed. Though it may seem like an insignificant part of the population, this was twenty more than the number of lives that should have been traded for this apparent lesson in human ignorance. If anyone were to have been accused of associating with the Devil, it should have been the entire town, for following the path of sins, the path to Hell. This path has always been associated with the seven deadly sins. Among which, or at least variations of, are Ambition, Greed, and Vengeance, all of which were essential components in bringing about this purposeless tragedy.
Ambition, an excessive desire for success of power, drove certain characters in the play to carry out their actions, each with its own effect on the final outcome of the trials. However, each character?s ambition held a different form, as some characters constantly desired an expansion of power or wealth while others only wished to sustain their reputation. Though different, both forms can do little to redress a situation, and usually
produce negative effects that can send a degrading situation further downhill. The Deputy Governor of the town, Danforth, is a man of immense power and authority. Few people dare to oppose him, and he is usually on the correct end of a debate. And even when his opinion is contradicted by several townsfolk who happen to know the truth, he feels his judgement is correct and his authority should not be questioned. Despite the importance of the situation, he simply rejects any suggestions and requests could delay or abolish his decisions. The beginning of Act Four shows that he would rather add to a profitless death toll than to admit his mistake. In the examples of Giles Corey and John Proctor, these men feel that the names and reputations of themselves and others hold more importance than even their lives. When pressed and questioned about his involvement in the witchcraft incident, Giles decides to answer neither aye nor nay in order to protect his own name and his children. When Proctor is requested to sign his confession to witchcraft, he claims ?I have three children–how may I teach them to walk like men, and I have sold my friends? — Beguile me not! I blacken all of them when this is nailed to the church the very day they hang for silence!? (143) He believes that by signing his confession and leaving it open to any interpretation, the names and even lives of his family and friends will be left in jeopardy. Therefore with his own sacrifice, he sets a precedent for the entire town to admire and follow. The determination of these brave men, much different than that of Danforth and most others, shows that in fact, one?s ambition can drive the individual to forfeit anything for the benefit of themselves and others.
Greed, acquisitive or selfish desire beyond reason, unlike most other human qualities, is never able to produce positive effects. It has adulterated the souls of many citizens in the
town, and is finally given an opportunity to reveal its nefarious power when the town is occupied with the witchcraft trials. When the town and its citizens are consumed by confusion and disorder, several characters discover the opportunity to take advantage of the situation and acquire as much wealth as possible. Such is the case with Thomas Putnam, who had supposedly requested his daughter to cry witchery upon George Jacobs, a man who owned a large quantity of land, to send him to jail. If Jacobs hangs as a witch, his land is to be forfeited, and Thomas Putnam would be the only one with enough money to purchase the land. As a result of the pandemonium brought about by the trials, Jacobs was accused, and soon after he was arrested without questioning or proper evidence. Greed can drive men to do anything to meet their desires, but it can also destroy a reputation and alienate even friends and family members who trust them. When Proctor is questioned by Hale as to why he has occasionally absent from church, he explains his discontent with the Reverend Parris. He claims that he prefers to avoid the Reverend and gives an example of the greed he senses in the man. ?Since we built the church there were pewter candlesticks upon the altar? But Parris came and for twenty week he preach nothin? but golden candlesticks until he had them. I labor the earth from dawn of day to the blink of night, and I tell you true, when I look to heaven and see my money glaring at his elbows?it hurt my prayer, sir, it hurt my prayer. I think sometimes, the man dreams cathedrals, not clapboard meetin? houses.? (65) Proctor shows his adversity toward greed by avoiding his Reverend and Church because of his repulsion for the man. Greed has never been looked highly upon, and when it has beset any soul, any effect is certain to be detrimental.
Vengeance, punishment in retaliation for injury or offense, in the case of the Salem Witchcraft trials, was the predominant cause of this mishap. When an individual is harmed, they can learn to forgive their adversary or request atonement. But when they stoop so low as to turn to reprisal as a solution, the result will mostly be inimical to more desirable outcomes. The most prevalent example of the exhibition of vengeance is in the discord within the Proctor family, and with their former servant Abigail Williams. Elizabeth Proctor had thrown Abigail out of the house shortly after learning of the affair between Abigail and her husband, John. Abigail, who is still in love with John and hates Elizabeth, was then determined to defile Elizabeth and espouse John. ?Never in this world! I know you John?you are at this moment singing secret hallelujahs that you?re wife will hang! (p. 152) Despite the obvious, Abigail still feels that everything should go her way. Though all that was in her mind was a childish desire to be with John, her mere artifice would soon lead to the demise of a town and several of its citizens. In opposition to her deceitful manipulation, John does all that he can to reveal the actuality of the predicament. ?If you do not free my wife tomorrow, I am set and bound to ruin you Abby.?(p. 151) in an ineffectual attempt to save his name, as well as the lives of several other innocent victims, he pays with the loss of his own. While vengeance can sometimes be an infantile response to mistreatment, when it is carried too far, it can result in immeasurable losses, sanity, faith, and even life.
Lacking experience, the small town of Salem Massachusetts followed the path to hell, and that is exactly where it led them. It brings into question the power of the Devil and his involvement in this series of losses. It reveals the destructive competence that lays dormant within the hearts of every man. Once these men are exposed to the lures and temptations
that can provoke them to do anything, a spark is set off that can ignite a holocaust of infinite proportions. A fire was ignited in Salem, it was put out, but it is only a fraction of the indefinite battle between good and evil. The Puritans lost this battle, and the power of theocracy was broken forever. The Salem Witchcraft trials will be remembered throughout the course of time. And whether this was the work of the Devil or the will of the people, this tragic occurrence should set an example never to be followed.