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Puritanism and the Crucible

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Marty Jefferson

on 13 September 2012

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Transcript of Puritanism and the Crucible

Puritanism and The Crucible Puritans believed in the concept of predestination: that God chose each human being from birth for salvation or for condemnation. Only God knew the fate of each person; and the Puritans rejected the concept of free will. But during his or her lifetime, a Puritan could search for clues as to the fate of their soul by performing good deeds, praying, and attending church services (even though none of this could change the person's predetermined fate). Why do all of this stuff if God has already decided your fate? Because leading a good life ("good" meaning all the stuff mentioned above, such as praying, working hard, etc.) might be an indication of God's grace. Clearly there is a delicate balance here; it would be heretical to suggest that you could alter the outcome of your soul's destiny, but you might provide an indication of which way you are going to go if you take on the appearance of a good soul who is bound to be saved. On the other hand, if you are lazy and immoral, most Puritans would take these characteristics as signs that you are going to hell, so to speak. This question of whether one was destined for heaven or hell on Judgment Day obviously produced a powerful mixture of hope and fear among Puritan believers, reflected in the sermons of their ministers. The Puritans believed that “Hell” was a real place that they would go to when they died if they didn’t follow the rules of the Puritan church. Church attendance was mandatory. Those who missed church regularly were subject to a fine. The sermon became a means of addressing town problems or concerns. The church was sometimes patrolled by a man who held a long pole. On one end was a collection of feathers to tickle the chins of old men who fell asleep. On the other was a hard wooden knob to alert children who giggled or slept. Church was serious business indeed. The Puritans believed they were doing God's work. Hence, there was little room for compromise. Harsh punishment was inflicted on those who were seen as straying from God's work. There were cases when individuals of differing faiths were hanged. Made famous by author Nathaniel Hawthorne in his book of the same name, the Scarlet Letter was a real form of punishment in Puritan society.

Adulterers might have been forced to wear a scarlet "A" if they were lucky. At least two known adulterers were executed in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Public whippings were commonplace. Stocks were used to punish lawbreakers. They were a wooden device in which a person's arms and head and legs were held down in an awkward, uncomfortable position. The person would be displayed before the entire town in the stocks, so not only the physical discomfort would be a deterrent for further wrongdoing, but also the public mockery and embarrassment. They forced the humiliated guilty person to sit in the public square, while onlookers spat or laughed at them. The Crucible is about the Salem witch trials, which occurred between February 1692 and May 1693.
More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft—the Devil's magic—and 20 were executed. Eventually, the colony admitted the trials were a mistake and compensated the families of those convicted. Since then, the story of the trials has become synonymous with paranoia and injustice, and it continues to beguile the popular imagination more than 300 years later.
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