Although the 1692 Salem Witch Trials were a minor event in American history, the names of those who were hanged are not forgotten. Their names are remembered today because of Arthur Miller, a man who believes that past events are connected to present realities through a strong moral logic. The trial’s motives and themes seemed to parallel those of a major movement in the late 1950s—McCarthyism. In his play, The Crucible, Miller retells the story of the witch trials and relates themes that were prominent in Salem to those prominent during McCarthyism.
In doing so, he creates a character who nearly exemplifies Joseph McCarthy himself-Deputy Governor Danforth. As the presiding judge at the witch trials, Danforth exhibits the themes of reputation and hypocrisy through his dialogue and actions in The Crucible. Danforth’s proud character leads him to defend his reputation at all costs. Upon meeting Francis Nurse, who accuses Danforth of being deceived by the girls, Danforth asks him, “Do you know who I am, Mr. Nurse? Do you know that near to four hundred are in the jails upon my signature? ” (80-81).
Through these rhetorical questions, Danforth establishes his prestigious reputation as a sophisticated and powerful judge who has justly presided over the witch trials. By questioning Francis’s knowledge of him, Danforth reinforces his good name and hints his arrogance as an authoritative figure in Salem. After Giles refuses to tell Hathorne the name of the man who claims to have heard Putnam admitting that he was accusing people only to steal their land, Danforth arrests him, saying, “I have no choice but to arrest you for contempt of this court” (90).
Danforth truly believes that he is doing the right thing in God’s name. He is so protective of his reputation that he throws Giles into jail for challenging his authority, “God’s authority. ” Relying on fallible evidence, Danforth seems to believe that his judgment is the best judgement Salem has to offer. Despite living in a Puritan society, he forgets the biblical principle that all men have sinned; therefore, no man can have the best judgement because it is tainted by sin. Yet, he knowingly believes the idea that his judgement is a direct representation of what God would will him to do.
Again, this mindset only strengthens his arrogance, which further empowers him to send the accused (though they are innocent) to jail. Danforth’s arrogance not only leads him to disregard a key biblical principle, but it also shows his selfishness in preserving his reputation. In addition to defending his reputation, Danforth’s biased judgement reveals his hypocrisy throughout the witch trials. Danforth’s biased judgement is an example of the extent he will go to protect his reputation. As a judge of the court, Danforth should be unbiased and fair towards all the people; however, he is the exact opposite.
Danforth’s biased judgement is a direct consequence of his believing the group of teenage girls over grown adults who can actually prove their innocence. This choice suggests that he is more likely to believe the girls because they will acknowledge and obey his authority rather than challenge it. Because the girls are the main authority in the trials, their accusations will bring more power to his authority, which will strengthen his reputation. Danforth’s biased judgment then leads him to be unfair in the court: he convicts people based on the words of the girls.
None of the accused are ever found innocent because Danforth makes sure that they either face death or lie to avoid it. But as an acclaimed Puritan and righteous man of God, Danforth should be judging the trials through a Christian lens, enforcing Christian principles while delivering justice fairly. His hypocrisy as a judge and Puritan lead him to do anything but. In fact, Danforth connects the theocracy of the church to the Salem court and misuses it. For example, in Act 3, an enraged Danforth yells at Mary Warren saying, “Do you not know that God [curses] all liars? (94).
Yet in Act 4, Danforth asks Elizabeth to convince her husband to lie about his actions. He claims that although God curses all liars, God may judge Proctor less if he will lie rather than die for his pride. The eighth commandment clearly states that a Christian should not lie to his neighbor. As a Christian authority, Danforth does not encourage the accused to tell the truth, rather, he demands them to lie about their involvement in witchcraft, or else he will kill them. In doing so, he also breaks the sixth commandment: thou shalt not kill.
As the official voice of the court, Danforth is purposely hanging people because they will not lie about being a witch. His hypocritical nature, then, is that he is using God’s name to justify his wrong actions—demanding that the accused lie and sentencing them to death if they do not. Danforth is a hypocrite in that he claims to act “in the will of God” when in reality, he acts to gain more power and authority as well as to protect his reputation. Furthermore, Danforth’s fear of Abigail leads to his refusing to admit his mistakes, which only strengthens his hypocrisy to preserve his reputation.
In Act 3, when Danforth asks Abigail if she denies Proctor’s confession, Abigail responds menacingly, saying, “If I must answer that, I will leave and I will not come back again! ” (103). Shocked by her reaction, Danforth becomes “unsteady” (103). Although Danforth enjoys his power and authority in Salem, the one person he has no authority over is the manipulative Abigail Williams. Danforth mostly relies on Abigail’s judgement before making the final decision on a person’s life, and his submissiveness to her only strengthens Abigail’s reputation as an authority in the court.
His questioning her was Danforth’s weak attempt to gain some control over Abigail, over her power in the court. Yet, he fails to do so and becomes afraid of her threat to leave. His hypocritical nature throughout the play relies solely on Abigail’s claims. If she were to leave, he would have no person to blame for his wrong judgment and all his “work for God” would mean absolutely nothing. If his hypocrisy in the trials fails to protect his reputation, then he ultimately loses all of his power and authority. But his worst hope evidently becomes true in Act 4.
As he meets with Parris, Parris admits that Abigail stole his money and left town. Upon hearing this news, Danforth becomes “alarmed and deeply worried” (117). Without Abigail, he has no basis for his actions and finally faces the possibility that the adults were right—the girls were frauds. In this moment, Danforth realizes that his reputation is on the line and determines to do anything to protect his good name. When Hale begs him to postpone the hangings, Danforth replies, “Twelve are already executed; the names of these seven are given out… Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part …
While I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering” (119). This is the climax of Danforth’s character. Without his “proof (Abigail and her accusations),” he can no longer justify his reasons for sentencing seven people to jail. His arrogance forbids him to admit that he is wrong and rather than try to help the accused, he returns to his hypocritical persona as the Puritan judge of the trials. He mentions that throughout the trials, he has been doing God’s will and that in order to make it “fair” to those who have already died, he must let the remaining seven innocent people hang.
Again, he is hypocritical in his actions because this act was not to be fair to the others. It was his last chance to protect his reputation. In his twisted logic, not postponing the hangings is what God willed him to do and by doing “God’s will,” he preserves his good name and proves that his “fair, Christian” judgement ultimately saved Salem from the devil’s work. As the official voice of the court, Deputy Governor Danforth’s actions and dialogue in The Crucible allow him to portray the play’s themes of reputation and hypocrisy.
Despite his good Christian status, he disregards the fact that his judgment is tainted by sin, manipulates God’s name, and breaks two commandments. Throughout the play, his actions build on the themes he portrays: to preserve his reputation, he becomes a hypocrite, both as a judge and a Puritan. Miller undoubtedly makes a comparison between Danforth and McCarthy, as they are both instigators to their cause. Danforth manipulates the witch trials to better his reputation and to feed the hysteria of the people that there were witches in Salem. Similarly, McCarthy manipulates the crisis of Communism during the 1950s.
By accusing government officials of being Communists, McCarthy advances himself while feeding the tyranny of consensus. The themes of reputation and hypocrisy that occurred in the 1962 Salem Witch Trials are the very same themes that were prevalent in McCarthyism. Through The Crucible, Arthur Miller does a fantastic job in relating the two events in history. The distorted logic in the trials nearly paralleled the frantic logic of McCarthyism, which served to prove Miller’s point: events in history are connected through logic, and they can repeat themselves.