QUESTIONS FOR STUDY with IDEAS FOR ANSWERS
Q: In ACT 4 – Scene 2, Deputy Governor Danforth faces a dilemma.
What is it, and what are the factors he considers in making his final decision?
Firstly, Danforth is a man who is caught up in the hysteria of witch Trials.
He has already participated in the deaths of hundreds of supposed witches.
In Salem, members of the community have been found guilty of witchcraft
based on the most circumstantial evidence.
The bulk of the accusations have come from a group of children and it is only after the executions have commenced that concrete evidence comes to light that the girls have been lying and making false accusations. So, the dilemma that Danforth faces is whether to admit that the Court has been wrong and misled by children, and therefore pardon the remainder of the prisoners under sentence of death, or proceed with the executions.
If he backtracks at this stage it will give a clear message to the world
that innocents have been killed and that he is not fit to be Judge, Deputy Governor, or anything else. There is no doubt that this mass hysteria has occurred in other places where other innocents have been
Therefore, Danforth takes the view that he must continue. He is long
since past the point of no return and the lives of these innocent people are nothing compared to his own political survival.
Q: In ACT 4 – Scene 4, John Proctor ask himself, “God in heaven, what is John
Proctor?” Well, who is he?
The whole play stems from Proctor’s temptation to sin with Abigail. In
a way it has similarities to the film ‘Fatal Attraction’ starring Michael Douglas and Glen Close.
Proctor ‘chooses’ the wrong person to have an affair with.
Abigail must possess Proctor, and this is the driving force behind the Salem witch Trials, although other members of the community jump on the bandwagon, it is her desire to possess Proctor that is the overriding factor, it fuels the hunt.
Proctor fully realises the implication of this as the Trials develop, and he
is riddled with guilt over this. However, he tries to avoid involvement with the Trials at the outset. He could quite easily have nipped this in the bud by confessing early on to his affair with
Abigail. This would have undermined Abigail and nobody would have given credence to her allegations. However, Proctor fails to meet his responsibilities and leaves it too late in confessing the affair.
In the end it is Proctor’s wife that forces him to become involved with the
Trials just prior to her being arrested, but even then he uses his servant, Mary Warren to attempt to discredit Abigail. When this fails, he is left with no alternative but to discredit Abigail by calling her
a whore, but this is seen by the Court as a desperate action to save his wife.
The inevitable happens and he is accused of being a witch.
The saying, ‘He who hesitates is lost’, is very apt here.
Under sentence of death, he faces the dilemma of whether to confess or
not. He does not want to die for a ridiculous reason, but he does not want to betray those others condemned to death. After all, he is partly responsible for their predicament, and he should therefore
suffer the same fate. The final decision is therefore to die as an honest man.
The answer to the question “What is John Proctor?” is – an honest man whose name is honoured, but he is not a martyr.
Q: Strong links and comparisons have been made between the Salem Witch Trials
of 1692 and the Anti-Communist McCarthy Hearings in 1950. Explain what these are.
Both these events in history were examples of judicial hysteria where the
law appears caught up in the frenzy to rid society of an apparent threat using limited evidence. For this to happen there first has to be a human environment, which feels it is being threatened by a force that
will undermine its very existence. The members of the societies in both cases suffer a paranoiac reaction.
In the case of the Puritans, their environment was a strict adherence to the
Bible and all its words, and in particular Exodus 22 v.18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” The Court became preoccupied with implementing this law without regard to the evidence or lack of it.
They viewed the girls as being God’s mouthpieces, and when they accused innocent people of witchcraft, this was believed.
In the case of the McCarthy Trials, the western world was in the grip of the
Cold War and this environment enabled the zealous McCarthy to instigate his hunt for Anti-Americans or Communists.
In a way, he is similar to Abigail and he progressed from being an unimportant Senator to being a household name throughout the world at the end of his campaign. In 1954 his highly publicised Investigations Committee had explored all areas of American society for Communists, including the entertainment industry, and the army. These hearings were televised, and after many ruined careers, the accusations were shown to be baseless, just as Abigail’s accusations were.
The lesson to be learned is that the law should be viewed as flexible in
order to obtain justice. When the letter of the law rules Courts, then justice suffers. That is why our modern laws are forever being modified and refined.