Puritan Women’s Value of Piety Contradictory in the Crucible
The Crucible presents women on a narrow spectrum reflecting the culture of the Puritan New England and the “cult of true womanhood. ” Many of the play’s central conflicts exist because of limitations on the rights of women, and their low status in society. The status of the Puritan white male allows the infringement of women’s fundamental human rights to be overlooked by the public. The role of women and the theme of misogyny or distrust of women is an undercurrent theme in The Crucible.
According to the ideals of the “cult of true womanhood”, women were supposed to embody perfect virtue in four cardinal aspects: piety, purity, submission, and domesticity. Piety maintained that a woman is more religious and spiritual than a man. Yet, in Miller’s play women were more susceptible to sin. Eve’s corruption, in Puritan eyes, extended to all women, and justified marginalization them within social avenues. In The Crucible, the ideal of femininity is presented within the traditional role of subservience, lack of voice, and suffering.
The two female characters, Elizabeth Proctor and Tituba, both subordinate to their husbands and master, respectively, and in the religious life of both home and church. The fate of both characters; Elizabeth Proctor’s loss of her husband, and Tituba’s execution as a witch, provides a standing critique of the Puritan ideal of women being superior in embodying the Puritan religiosity juxtaposing the subordination of their gender. The virtue of piety affirms that a woman is naturally religious. Consequently, it is a woman’s job to raise her children to be good Christians and keep her husband on a strait and narrow path.
Wives are fully responsible if their husbands disobey the commandments, especially adultery. In The Crucible, this idea is reaffirmed with the character Elizabeth Proctor. Elizabeth is the ideal Puritan woman as she exemplified the principles of the piety, submissiveness, and purity. Throughout the play, she proves to be moral, cold, and determined. As John states in Act 2, “Oh, Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer! ” (Miller 53) Yet, the “cult of true womanhood” requires her to be predisposed to conceal the gentler emotions, while her manners are calm and cold, rather than free and impulsive.
Abigail, the mistress, represents the opposite. She is young, attractive and brings forth a zest of life. A zest that Elizabeth lacks. John Proctor conveys this when he seasons the pot of stew Elizabeth is cooking. Within Act II, scene one opens with John Proctor walking into the kitchen. His wife is absent but there is stew cooking. He lifts the ladle from the pot, tastes it, and adds a pinch of salt. The significance of this short scene may justify his affair with Abigail and a contradiction of Puritan society. Elizabeth embodies the ideal of a Puritan woman, but her Puritan husband does not desire it.
After she has spent a few months alone in prison, Elizabeth comes to this realization: she was a cold wife, and it was because she did not show love to her husband that her marriage suffered. She comes to believe that it is her coldness that led to his affair with Abigail. Additionally, it is with this situation that builds up to her telling a lie to save her husbands reputation. “In her life, sir, she have never lied. There are them that cannot sing, and them that cannot weep — my wife cannot lie. I have paid much to learn it” (Miller 103). John Proctor states that his wife, Elizabeth wont tell a lie.
However, she lies in an attempt to save his life. And as such, lying to save a family member’s life or reputation is justified. Throughout the play, Elizabeth is depicted as being one without sin. It is a scene in Act 3 she lies in court, saying that John and Abigail’s affair never happened. This is supposedly the only time she has ever lied in her life. Though she lies in an attempt to protect her husband, it actually results in his death. She is accosted in Act 4 to persuade her husband in giving the false confession of being a witch. But she refuses. Hale disagrees with this.
He says “‘It is mistaken law that leads you to sacrifice. Life, woman, life is God’s most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it . . . it may well be God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride'” (Miller 122). Hale implies that John’s death is a waste of life and “God’s most precious gift. ” Thus Hale’s reasoning with Elizabeth is to let her come to terms with her responsibility with her husband’s sin and let her be accountable for the affects of her decision in not lying again to protect him from the gallows.
Besides gender inequality, racism was extremely prevalent in Puritan society. As such, the character Tituba is not only limited by her race, but also by her gender. She was the first person to be accused and confess to witchcraft in the village. At first she denied that she had any involvement with witchcraft, but was then quickly coerced into confessing to having spoken with the Devil. Tituba provides the following confession: “He say Mr. Parris must be kill! Mr. Parris no goodly man, Mr. Parris mean man and no gentle man, and he bid me rise out of my bed and cut your throat! They gasp.
But I tell him “No! I don’t hate that man. I dont want kill that man. ” But he say, “You work for me, Tituba, and I make you free! I give you pretty dress to wear, and put you way up in the air, and you gone fly back to Barbados! ” And I say, “ You lie, Devil, you lie! ” And then he come one stormy night to me and he say, “Look! I have white people belong to me. ” And I look – and there was Goody Good” (Miller 44). In the selected quote she lies and provides a false confession of witchcraft as well as the name of another witch in town to hopefully save herself from being subjected to the gallows.
Though Tituba admits her supposed sin, she is not given a free pass like the others who confessed. Instead, she is condemned to death. The fact that she was convicted at all shows that the Puritan society is inherently prejudice. In The Crucible, Titibua is depicted as an indirect object within an elite discourse of religious freedom and slavery. The Puritan society was obsessed with keeping up a veneer of religious piety and proper moral conduct. The play’s setting of the woods in the opening scene represents the epitome of an uncontrollable wildness.
It is there where she held power and peril while she engages in incantations in the woods. Being an outsider makes her more likely to be in cohorts with the Christian Devil. Before being brought to Massachusetts, Tituba never considered her singing, dancing, and spell casting as evil. Such practices were spiritual and descended from her African roots. Her spirituality had no connections to ideals of absolute good or evil. This is shown in Act Four, when Tituba tells to her jailer mockingly: “Oh, it be no Hell in Barbados.
Devil, him be pleasure-man in Barbados, him be singin’ and dancin’ in Barbados. It’s you folks – you riles him up ’round here; it be too cold ‘round here for that Old Boy. He freeze his soul in Massachusetts, but in Barbados he just as sweet “ (Miller 113). The irony of the ill treatment of Tituba’s religious outsider status is the fact Puritans migrated to the New World to flee religious persecution. They sought to express their faith freely, yet equally boasted great suspicion to others who were different.
And as such, it can be inferred that Miller’s belief is that despite the Puritans’ self-proclamation of individualism, they exude as much intolerance as the European powers that set out to control them. The Puritans failed to learn from the persecution of their ancestors. The persecution of Tituba and her “heathen” religious practices reflect this conflict. In The Crucible, it was viewed that women were more likely to enlist in the Devil’s service than was a man, and women were considered lustful by nature as seen with the character Abigail. Ironically, Puritan women are prized for having a higher sense of religiosity.
Almost all the accused who were imprisoned and executed for the crime of witchcraft were women who were social outcasts or predominant in the community. Tituba was a social outcast as she was a slave and Black woman. Elizabeth Proctor was a virtuous woman but was marred by her husband’s affair with their house servant. The village’s problem with Tituba’s different religious beliefs and expressions reflects the hypocrisy of Puritan intolerance, and John Proctor’s engagement in adultery highlights an inconsistency with the Puritan ideal of its women.