The Puritan Ethics Oppose The Ethics Of Contemporary Beliefs
The Crucible revolves around the New World Puritan society and the practice of McCarthyism, with Christianity being the base of their ethics and morals. However, many readers are unable to grasp the way of life in the Salem, finding difficulty to relate to and understand the characters or rule of the court. This is the result of the evolution of ethics and morals since the Puritan times in 1692. John Proctor is the one of the few characters that readers can relate to, as he embodies the contemporary ideal in the Puritan setting. Many contemporary beliefs oppose the Puritan ethics that guided Salemites during the Salem Witch Trials, leading to hysteria and disagreement between the morally ‘Good’ characters and ‘Evil’ characters from the readers’ perspectives.
The New World Puritanism had beliefs that all human were evil by nature and a person’s actions or deeds were never indicative of the truth of the heart (Claudia and Vernon, 27). The Puritan theology divided the population into two main parts: the church leaders and the rest of the community. Church leaders had the highest authority, and thought that they knew what was best for everyone and insisted that their orders were to be followed without question (Claudia and Vernon, 33).
Deputy Governor Danforth has the most authority in The Crucible, representing justice in the Salem Witch Trials. In Act IV, Danforth finalises his that “there would no postponement” of the hangings. Despite the plea of both Reverend Parris and Hale, as well as the uprise of the Salem society, Danforth does not compromise and make the decision of the hangings all by himself. Church leaders should make the ‘best decisions’, but readers will definitely feel unsatisfied and outraged at his decision, because his statement had no concrete evidence to support it.
To the modern audience, Danforth is taking away innocent lives, which contradicts his role of a Deputy Governor. However, his decision was made because he spoke “God’s law” he will not “crack its voice with whimpering” (Miller 117). [Puritans believed that] tolerating someone with wrong ideas would bring down God’s wrath on the whole community (Claudia and Vernon, 40). Danforth did his duty to avoid the potential chaos that God would befall upon Salem, and to him, that was protecting the people. Nonetheless, these “wrong thinkers” were the people who embodied the contemporary ideal.
Anyone who criticizes or cross leaders in authority had the same intention of defying God (Claudia and Vernon, 33). According to the Puritans, the agents of the release of evil were the witches, acting on instructions from Satan, creating havoc within the community. (Claudia and Vernon, 38) The fear of chaos within the community intertwines with vengeance at times. In The Crucible, many people with higher authority tend to look at Proctor in spite, for he is a person with a stronger conscience and morals that differs from theirs, and therefore viewed as a rebellion.
Proctor’s strong conscience and straightforwardness causes him to feud with Parris who already bore a long standing grudge against him. Proctor is immediately suspected by Hale for witchcraft because of his absence in church on Sabbath Day and his refusal to baptize his third son (Miller, 61). Later on, he is jailed by Danforth after trying to save his wife and friends, who are not guilty. Proctor’s ability to stand up for his perception of justice causes him to be viewed unfavourable upon by the church leaders, who hold a different view of justice. Proctor possesses a set of moral values that is similar to contemporary ethics, but his placement in a Puritan setting causes him to be an outcast, which in turn brings him more harm than good.
The two main moral theories of modern virtue ethics are Kant’s deontological ethics and utilitarianism (John-Stewart). Utilitarianism focuses on achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number, avoiding pain or harm inflicted upon people. Kant’s ethics is deontological in the sense that one has to obey the duties and obligations derived from his supreme principle of morality (John-Stewart).By layman terms, moral qualities include benevolence, altruism and selflessness, and self-sacrifice towards a greater cause – all derived from a sense of empathy. In contrast, people who lack in morals are the ones who are selfish, narcissistic, greedy and unempathetic.
Proctor is the protagonist of the story, and although he has flaws, he is capable of feeling guilt when he defies his own moral integrity, which many of the church leaders lack in. He acknowledges his mistakes, the most prominent example seen when he cheats on Elizabeth with Abigail Williams. In Act IV, Proctor’s self inflicted guilt is evident. He tells Elizabeth that he will confess because he ‘cannot mount the gibbet like a saint’ for he ‘is a fraud’ and his ‘honesty is broke’, thus he is ‘no good man’ (Miller 123). Proctor takes this single error in his life and beats himself up for it, to the point where he does not even believe that he is a good Christian, unworthy of keeping his name.
Proctor demonstrates utilitarianism and selflessness when he confesses that he has been in league with the devil but does not tell the church leaders that others were involved. He refuses to ‘spoil their names’ and claims that only he is involved with the Devil (Miller 127). Nonetheless, this refusal is mistaken as a “love for hell” in the eyes of the church leaders. Proctor sacrifices his own name and chooses to save the others from having their names soiled. From this, readers are able to tell that he truly is a tragic hero, and view him as a good person, despite the community that labeled him as a source of evil.
Proctor is the main figure of a contemporary ideal, holding a set of moral values which modern readers possess, thus being protagonist of the play. [Unfortunately, due to the fact that Puritan ethics and modern ethics oppose, Proctor faces his end as a tragic hero], when the evil that was in the guise of justice and fair play overpowered the Salem society (Sumita, 2) .
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