Critical Essays Historical Period: Puritans in Salem


The action of the play takes place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Salem is a Puritan community, and its inhabitants live in an extremely restrictive society. Although the Puritans left England to avoid religious persecution, they established a society in America founded upon religious intolerance. Government and religious authority are virtually inseparable, and individuals who question local authority are accused of questioning divine authority. The Puritan community considers physical labor and strict adherence to religious doctrine the best indicators of faithfulness, honesty, and integrity.

Puritan society stresses the sense of community that results from shared experiences and beliefs. As an unsurprising result, the church dominates the Puritan culture. The church provides individuals with common shared experiences via the Scriptures, and a communal source of morality based on shared values. Thus, a sermon serves as a tool to teach a biblical lesson, and the theocratic government reinforces the precepts from the sermon.

For example, a sermon focusing on the fall of Adam and Eve might discuss the danger of physical gratification and the imminent disobedience resulting from desire. By extension, Puritan society discourages individuality, as well as individual desires. In fact, Puritans consider material and sexual desires unnatural and evil — the Devil's work — and a threat to society. Thus, the society punishes anyone who pursues material and/or sexual gratification. Of course, ways around these rules do exist. As demonstrated in The Crucible, people can pursue and obtain what they want without fear of reprisal, so long as they do it under the guise of the church or God's will. However, in general, one can describe Salem as a rigid society, emphasizing work and the suppression of individual desires.