In Miller's, The Crucible, he describes a New England town in the midst of Salem witch-hunt hysteria during the late 1600's. His play not only recounts the historic events but also specifically sheds light on the rationalization for this hysteria. In Miller's running commentary he describes the intent of the Puritans particularly accurately. In one specific statement, he says "they [the Puritans] believed, in short, that they held in their steady hands the candle that would light the world. We have inherited this belief and it has helped and hurt us." This statement proves itself to be particularly profound, for it manages to both accurately describe the actions of the Puritans, and relate it to our world today.
To understand the implications of Mr. Miller when he discusses the Salem witchcraft trials as having an impact on our society, one must first completely understand the metaphor, and all of its implications.
Clearly, the candle described represents their persecution of the witches, perhaps the burning flame a symbol of the power that the Puritans possessed. It was the divine light that emanated from this candle, that they believed they could use to expose the heretics and eventually remove them from their society. The darkness that supposedly befuddled good and evil would be eliminated, and everyone and everything in their society would be seen as it truly was. This was a very hopeful idea for most of the Puritans, for a rapid decline in church participation was simultaneously taking place. And as ministers tried as they could to convince "sinners" in New England to repent, they couldn't, and believed the devil was behind the loss of religious fervor that was so important when the colony was founded. Unfortunately for the Puritans, they were misfounded in their faith, for clearly the devil was not among them. It was their internal stress that provoked them to look for evil in their town, the class resentment present in New England was powerful, and was only multiplied by the events of the witchcraft hysteria. Furthermore, when the public began to doubt the truth of the accusers, and ultimately recognized that "it was pretense," they could not handle the implications. Perhaps it was the guilt of taking so many innocent women's lives, perhaps it was that their faith in God was wavered, perhaps all of the above; but for whatever reason, Salem was destroyed for these implications, and New England's stability as a whole was severely in jeopardy.
The second part of Mr. Miller's quotation relates the events of the witchcraft trials to our time, saying "[how] we inherited this belief, and it has helped us and hurt us." Undeniably, Mr. Miller is correct when he states that we inherited the same need to know good and evil, and place a clear-cut reason for every occurrence. Part of this need is human nature. Everyone has their own story for the different occurrences in their life, and in the world. Ironically, even The Crucible is simply a rehash of these historical events, and virtually all dialogue and events were made up or simply based on limited knowledge of the events that occurred during that time period. Each time something new is learned the story changes, and the people who read it change as well. Tragically for the Puritans, they found out their story was false about 6 months too late. The second part of this need is the presence of internal cohesion in a society. People choose to separate things into good and evil because their society is not stable, and they are hoping that perhaps there would be a quick fix to solve all their problems. Unfortunately, however, there is usually no quick fix and attempting to separate good and evil only further segregates the colony.
The positive and negative impacts on our society are evident in everyday as one picks up a magazine, reads a newspaper, or talks with an acquaintance. The positive effects are that we are now bold enough to uncover the filth that plagues our towns and cities. The Puritans were forced into a mode of complacency, and were afraid to speak out if they were unhappy with their life. The witchcraft hysteria changed all of that, and people began to voice their accusations, clearly, with an air of contempt, but also of justice. It is this event that allows not only the great social diversity of America, but also cuts down on corruption for fear of being exposed to the public. The negative aspect of these events caused for many innocent people's reputations to be ruined when the press jumps on a conclusion without conclusive evidence. Also, it accounts for the severe invasion of privacy that has been implemented to discover the faults of America. Both these impacts are great in their own regard, and could be regarded as an significant tradeoff.
It is interesting when one considers then common bonds between America today and Salem in the late 1600's. The bonds are there, and one cannot help wondering how far the metaphor goes. That is, Salem was destroyed by the hysteria of the witchcraft hysteria, its society crumbled under the great implications of their actions. Are we going to crumble as well, is our society doomed to destroy itself when it realizes it has made the wrong decision. But when one carefully considers this option, the answer shall always be no. Unlike Salem, our population is not uniform, and was not supporting one cause or the other. Our society has evolved to the point where upon any issue, there is already great debate, and almost never does a great majority convict people of a crime if there is not overwhelming evidence against them. Perhaps if Salem had thought over their actions more carefully, and been further advanced in their court system principles, they too might have escaped their tragic demise.