Summary and Analysis
Act I: Scene 5
Reverend Hale arrives at Parris' house. Hale tells Rebecca Nurse that people in his town know her good deeds well. The Putnams describe Ruth's condition to Hale and ask him to examine her, but first Hale prepares to look at Betty. Hale tells everyone in the room that he will not examine Betty unless they accept the fact that witchcraft may not be the reason for her ailment: "I shall not proceed unless you are prepared to believe me if I should find no bruise of Hell upon her."
Mrs. Putnam states that Tituba can conjure spirits. Mrs. Putnam admits that she sent Ruth to Tituba so that Tituba could conjure Ruth's dead sisters in order to find out who murdered them.
Goody Nurse leaves when Hale prepares to examine Betty for signs of the Devil because Hale says the process may cause the child pain. Giles Corey tells Hale that his wife Martha has been secretly reading books and that these books prevent him from praying.
Parris tells Hale about Abigail, Betty, and the others dancing in the woods. Hale questions Abigail, and she blames Tituba for everything. Abigail says that Tituba makes her drink blood, plagues her dreams, and tempts her to sin.
Hale questions Tituba and tells her that she can redeem herself by admitting that she has been working with the Devil and by telling him the names of anyone else involved. She admits that she has seen the Devil and that Goody Good and Goody Osburn were with him.
Abigail admits that she has given herself to the Devil by writing her name in his book. She renounces the Devil and says that she wants "the sweet love of Jesus." Abigail also claims to have seen Goody Good and Goody Osburn with the Devil, along with Bridget Bishop. Betty wakes up and claims that she saw George Jacobs and Goody Howe with the Devil. Act I ends with Abigail and Betty naming individuals that they have seen with the Devil.
Scene 5 is pivotal in the play for two reasons. First, this scene establishes the expectation of witchcraft in Salem. Hale warns everyone in the room that he will not examine Betty unless they acknowledge the fact that witchcraft may not be involved. Although everyone agrees, they overwhelmingly expect and hope that he will discover witchcraft. The idea of discovering witchcraft in one's own backyard is not only exciting, but it allows individuals to find an explanation for things that they otherwise cannot explain. For example, Mrs. Putnam's blaming her children's deaths upon witchcraft is easier than admitting that she did not give birth to healthy children, or that she cannot carry children successfully. Explaining that Betty and Ruth's ailments result from witchcraft is also much easier than admitting that good Puritan girls were out dancing in the woods and attempting to cast spells and are now feigning illness to avoid punishment.
Even though Hale states a disclaimer at the beginning of Scene 5, nearly everyone expects him to find evidence of witchcraft; they will not be satisfied unless he does. As a result, Hale is overcome by the many descriptions of all of the unnatural events occurring in Salem: Betty's illness, Ruth's condition, Tituba's ability to conjure spirits, dancing in the woods, the death of the seven Putnam children, Martha Corey's strange books, and so forth. He might explain any one of these events in isolation, but together, they serve as overwhelming evidence of witchcraft in Salem.
Mrs. Putnam's anger toward Rebecca only intensifies when Rebecca criticizes her for sending Ruth to conjure up the dead with Tituba. Under normal circumstances, the Puritans would severely punish Mrs. Putnam for her actions, because they considered attempting to contact the dead and endangering the life of a child the Devil's work. However, Mrs. Putnam not only avoids punishment, but she manipulates Rebecca's reaction and her refusal to stay during Hale's examination of Betty as proof of Rebecca's involvement in the witchcraft.
The second reason that Scene 5 is pivotal is because Abigail exerts her power and begins her quest to obtain Proctor. Unsurprisingly, Tituba confesses to witchcraft when the townspeople threaten her with physical violence. She is a black female slave, an individual without any power. She cannot hope to defend herself against Abigail's accusations, even though she and Abigail both know that Abigail is lying. The fact that Tituba confesses to witchcraft and then implicates Sarah Good and Goody Osburn reveals that Tituba listens very well and values her life. In order to preserve her own life, Tituba takes cues from her interrogators and tells them what they want to hear. Hale's response to Tituba's confession prompts Abigail's own sudden admission of guilt.
Declaring witchcraft becomes the popular thing to do. It grants an individual instant status and recognition within Salem, which translates into power. Abigail realizes that she can achieve immediate respect and authority by declaring that she has consorted with the Devil but now seeks redemption. Abigail's manipulation of the circumstances demonstrates her keen sense of self-preservation, as well as a unique understanding of the blind ignorance of others. Abigail knows that the townspeople will view her as an expert witness. The fact that Hale believes her sets her far apart from the other people in Salem. The people forget Abigail's questionable reputation and now consider her an instrument of God. This calculated move finally puts her in a position to get rid of Elizabeth Proctor. The fact that Betty suddenly awakens after Abigail renounces the Devil only underscores Abigail's authority and further establishes her credibility.
diabolism dealings with the Devil or devils, as by sorcery or witchcraft.
inculcate to impress upon the mind by frequent repetition or persistent urging.
licentious morally unrestrained, esp. in sexual activity; lascivious.
truck the practice of bartering; [Informal] dealings (have no further truck with them). Here, also a verb, meaning to be in league with someone. For example Tituba denies trucking, or being in league with, the Devil.