Free Essays on The Crucible: Ann Hutchinson

Free Essays on The Crucible: Ann Hutchinson
The American weakness in times of trouble is the instinctive act of finding a scapegoat. Stemming from the Calvinistic religious beliefs of the Puritans who immigrated to America, anything that strays from the predestined lives of these puritanical people is the result of sin. The ideas of ?original sin? and ?predestination? are at the heart of Calvinism. Thus, the Calvinist Puritans have their lives planned out for them by God before birth and anything that disrupts that plan must be eradicated. It was on the basis of this stringent religious way of life that the witch-hunts on 1692 came about. The accusation of people, beginning in Salem, Massachusetts and quickly spreading throughout the Puritan community began because the Puritans needed a scapegoat for their problems. The Puritans accused people of being a witch for actions that were hardly considered illegal and usually had to do with a threat posed to the church. Webster?s Dictionary defines a ?witch? as 1. A woman practicing the black arts; 2. A charming or alluring woman; 3. An ugly old woman; 4. One supposed to possess supernatural powers with the devil or a familiar. The last definition being the only applicable definition here is hardly pertinent. The phenomenon of the witch-hunts in Puritan New England rose out of flawed theory, sexism, and fear as seen in John Winthrop?s account of the trial of Anne Hutchinson, the actual transcript of the trial of Anne Hutchinson, and Arthur Miller?s The Crucible.
The argument over ?Covenant of Works vs. Covenant of Grace? is, in the Puritan community, of greater importance than the argument over the separation of church and state. The idea behind the two covenants is that in the covenant of works, one can do good deeds and, thereby, get him or herself saved in the eyes of God. The covenant of grace is the belief that people are predestined to be saved or damned and there is nothing that can be done by those damned individuals to change that. The Puritans believe the latter, though some members of the community believe the former. The idea that people were chosen by God, predestined, to join God in heaven was the foundation of the Puritan religion and furthermore, the Puritans believed that God made it obvious which of these people were preordained to live eternally in heaven. Thus, these chosen people, somehow marked by God for ?saving? were the constituents of the Puritan community. Anne Hutchinson radicalized that theory when she stated that she had a divine revelation during which God told her she was saved. Her claims of self- sanctification outraged John Winthrop and led him to the belief that she was a witch. This idea of a flawed theory, the disparaging ideas of sanctification vs. justification, preached by the Puritans and refuted by Anne Hutchinson is exemplified in John Winthrop?s account of the witch trial of Hutchinson. In the Winthrop account of the trial, it explains Hutchinson?s theory as ?1. The person of a Holy Ghost dwells in a justified person. 2. That no sanctification can help to evidence to us our justification? (50) Winthrop?s document refers to Hutchinson?s idea of religion, antinomianism, as, in effect, steps on the road to abandonment and something that would lead to ethical anarchy. It becomes clear in his final paragraph that it was indeed his flawed theory that was one cause of the witch-hunts when he says, ?Indeed it was a happy day to the churches of Christ here, and to many poor souls who had been seduced by her who, by what they heard and saw that day, were brought off quite from her errors and settled again in the truth.? According to Winthrop, Hutchinson was led astray by her flawed theory, when in fact, it was his own flawed theory that gave rise to the witch-hunts, and caused deaths of innocent people.

A large part of the accusation of witches in Puritan, New England was the idea that women were more likely to be witches than men were. In the example of Anne Hutchinson, she was only accused of, and tried for, holding ?illegal? meetings at her home after church to discuss the sermons. It was because of this idea that more women than men were brought to trial, found guilty, and killed. Women, once accused of witchcraft, were almost certain to burn at the stakes because once accused publicly, a woman entered into a ?modern? day lose-lose situation. If she sits idly at her trial and makes no attempt to refute the evidence presented against her, she is presumed guilty because she cannot prove herself innocent. However, if she defends herself, she is considered to be possessed by the devil for acting out of her sex. This was the case in the infamous trial of Anne Hutchinson. It is clear from the transcript that Winthrop was accusing Hutchinson of minor wrongdoings and had already set his mind on destroying her.

Gov.: You have maintained a meeting and an assembly in your house that hath been condemned by the general assembly as a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God nor fitting for your sex, and not withstanding that was cried down you have continued the same. (156)

Further down in his opening speech to the court, the governor states, ?if you be in erroneous way we may reduce you that so you may become a profitable member here among us, otherwise if you be obstinate?the court may take such course that you may trouble us no further? (156). The governor plainly states yet another cause for the rise of the Puritan witch hunts in New England, sexism. It was not fitting for women to hold meetings independent of men. In the actual transcript, Hutchinson takes it upon herself to defend her case in court. For example, in a dialogue between Hutchinson and Mr. Winthrop, her responses reveal her ?true sex?,

Mrs. H: I am called here to answer before you but I hear no things laid in my charge

Gov.: I have told you some already and more I can tell you.

Mrs. H: Name one sir. (156)

The nature with which Hutchinson responds to the Governor displays disdain and portrays Hutchinson as ?non-woman.? No woman who knows her place would dare to defend herself in such a manner, responding with quips that match, if not surpass, the intelligence of the governor. It was her superior intelligence that first flagged her as a potential source of sin in the community. She spoke her mind regarding the sermon of the day at the meetings she held at her home and proved herself to be smarter than the ministers delivering the sermons when she provided a much deeper insight or another way of looking at something. It was this threat that scared the church and provoked the rise of witch-hunting in the community. Moreover, in the immediate reading of the text of Hutchinson?s trial, it is clear that Winthrop is threatened and caught unprepared by her remarks. These characteristics, exhibiting manly qualities, led many of the Puritan witch hunters to assume women were witches. It was the threat posed to them by these innocent people that gave rise to the witch-hunts and the murders that occurred.

Yet another cause of the terror reigned in Puritan New England in the form of witch-hunts was fear. The cold-blooded fear of something different, something that went against the grain of society proved too much for Puritan society in 1692 and, perhaps, American society again in 1950. In Arthur Miller?s The Crucible, a crude stab is taken at the fear felt by all Puritans at the time of the witch-hunts. The Crucible is in response to a ?red scare? started by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Due to a deep seeded fear of communists, McCarthy accused political officials of being communists, when communists were a threat to the United States. These accusations struck Miller to be very similar to the crying out done by accused witches in Salem 1692. Thus, it is proved in Miller?s captivating account of the witch trials in Salem, that fear was at the heart of all of the accusations. The Crucible chronicles the accusations and trials of accused witches in Salem, Massachusetts. John Proctor, humble, honest, and kind is the type of man every little boy wants to be. He witnesses several of the young ladies of the town practicing dark magic in the forest. Though he resists accusing them, he cannot wake his daughter, who had been among them that night. Thus, out of human fear that embedded itself in his heart, out of worry for his daughter, and out of a desire to keep his home the way he knew it to be, he gave birth to one of the most infamous trials in America?s history. Thus, it is fear of the opposite sex, fear of a greater knowledge, fear of change that drives the witch-hunters and the judges who try them. Miller proves that this fear does not leave the hearts of Americans because the same sequence of events occurs 258 years later. The rise of the witch-hunts can be attributed to any number of things, but fear is at the heart of it all.

When examined from the point of view of a human living in the 21st century, with political, religious, and natural freedom, the Salem witch trials seem ridiculous. Though there was an element of lunacy behind the witch-hunts, the motivation for the manhunts was well founded. When placed in a comfortable society, why would you seek something to destroy it? The people of Puritan New England had no reason to destroy their society. There was religious comfort in a country that allowed them to live as they pleased. The imposition of fear, created chaos of their world and gave birth to what some consider a reign of terror. Paranoia, accusations, trials, and killings engulfed the simple society of Puritan New England and caused a reaction that will forever be attributed to fear.

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