Through these prose passages that interrupt the dialogue and action of the play, Miller establishes the particular quality of Salem society that makes it particularly receptive to the repression and panic of the witch trials. The Puritan life in Salem is rigid and somber, allowing little room for people to break from the monotony and strict work ethic that dominated the close-knit society. Furthermore, the Puritan religious ethic informed all aspects of society, promoting safeguards against immorality at any cost to personal privacy or justice. The Puritans of Massachusetts were a religious faction who, after years of suffering persecution themselves, developed a willful sense of community to guard against infiltration from outside sources. It is this paradox that Miller finds to be a major theme of The Crucible: in order to keep the community together, members of that community believed that they must in some sense tear it apart. Miller relates the intense paranoia over the integrity of the Puritan community to their belief that they are in some sense a chosen people, who will forge a new destiny for the world. This relates strongly to the political climate of the early 1950s in which Miller wrote The Crucible. After the end of World War II, the United States found itself engaged in a struggle for political supremacy with Communist forces, in particular the Soviet Union. Just as the Salem authorities believed that witchcraft threatened their community, many Americans during this time saw Communism as a threat to the American way of life.
Of course, Morris has several reasons to avoid speaking the bitter truth, but the main reason is because he's a liar. We can separate Morris' hesitant and incomplete confession to Catherine from his energetic voluble self-advertisements at the beginning of the novel. Morris lied so much that gullible Catherine couldn't help but consider him "artistic," as Aunt Penniman considered him "imperious." Morris is a fictional character who fictionalizes himself into a hero. His rakish poverty is redone as a moral tableau, some youthful excess from which Morris has drawn a lesson. Morris styles himself as a Spanish teacher, a stranger who has been around the world, and a commodities merchant who works downtown and most suddenly leave for New Orleans (Philadelphia) to speculate on cotton.
, Rev. Parris' slave from Barbados, enters the room. She is concerned for Betty's welfare, but Parris makes her leave. , the niece of Rev. Parris, also enters, along with , who tells Rev. Parris that Dr. Griggs can find no cure for Betty's ailment. Parris has sent for Reverend Hale of Beverly, who will confirm the possibility of an unnatural cause of Betty's illness, but he orders Susanna to say nothing of unnatural causes to others. Abigail warns Parris that there are rumors of witchcraft and that the parlor is packed with people. Parris tells her that he cannot reveal that he found his daughter and niece dancing in the forest like heathens. Abigail admits to dancing and is willing to accept the punishment, but will not admit to witchcraft. Parris warns Abigail that he has enemies who will use this situation against him, and claims that he saw a dress lying on the grass and someone naked running through the trees. He thinks that Tituba was screeching gibberish when he found the girls, but Abigail says they were only singing Barbados songs. Parris demands to know whether Abigail has a good reputation, following up on rumors that her former employee, Goody Proctor, thinks Abigail is corrupt, but Abigail calls Goody Proctor a gossiping liar.
The first act establishes the primary characters of the play who instigate the Salem witch trials. Each has his particular obsessions and motivations that drive him to push for the trials. The first and perhaps most reprehensible of these characters is the Reverend Samuel Parris, a man who symbolizes the particular quality of moral repression and paranoia that drive the trials. Miller immediately establishes Parris as a man whose main concern is his reputation and status in the community, rather than the well-being of his daughter. It is Tituba who shows more concern for Betty than her father, but she is kept away from the girl's sick bed. When he discusses finding Abigail and Betty dancing in the woods, his concern is not the sin that they committed but rather the possibility that his enemies will use this scandal against him. Parris is distinctly paranoid, defending himself from all enemies even when they may not exist. The particular quality of Parris that renders him dangerous is his strong belief in the presence of evil. Even before the witchcraft paranoia, Proctor indicates that Parris showed an obsession with damnation and hell in order to strike fear into his parishioners. With the seeming presence of witchcraft in Salem, Parris now has a concrete, physical manifestation of the evil he so fears.