The color-coded boxes under "Analysis & Themes" below (which look like this: ) make it easy to track the themes throughout the work. Each color corresponds to one of the themes explained in the Themes section of this LitChart.
Analysis & Themes
Betty Parris has fallen into a strange coma. Around her hover Reverend Parris, her father and the minister of the Massachusetts town of Salem, his 17-year-old niece Abigail Williams, and his slave Tituba. When Tituba asks if Betty will be all right, Parris yells at her to get out of the room.
Susanna Walcott arrives with news that the town doctor can't figure out what's the matter and suggests Parris look for spiritual causes. Parris says it can't possibly be spiritual causes, though just to make sure he's asked Reverend Hale from the nearby town of Beverly to come investigate. As Susanna leaves, both Abigail and Parris caution her to keep quiet about what she's seen.
Abigail tells Parris about rumors that witchcraft caused Betty's faint: a crowd has already gathered downstairs in Parris's house. Abigail suggests Parris publicly deny the rumors of witchcraft.
Parris angrily asks if he should say he discovered his daughter and niece dancing "like heathen[s]" in the forest. Abigail admits they danced, but says that's all they did. Parris says that if the girls were conjuring spirits, he needs to know because his "enemies" will surely find out and ruin him. He says there's a group in the town that wants to drive him from his job as minister.
Abigail insists there was no witchcraft, but Parris says he saw Tituba chanting over a cauldron. Abigail says that Tituba was just singing songs from Barbados, her homeland. Then Parris says he thinks he saw a naked body running away in the forest. Abigail swears no one was naked.
Parris asks Abigail why Elizabeth Proctor dismissed her from her job as an assistant in the Proctor household six months earlier. He's heard rumors Elizabeth now rarely comes to church because she refuses to sit near Abigail. Parris also expresses concern that since Elizabeth dismissed Abigail, no other family has hired her. Abigail says Elizabeth dismissed her because she refused to act like a slave, and that other women haven't hired her for the same reason. She says her reputation in the town is spotless, and calls Elizabeth a cold woman and a gossiping liar.
The charge of witchcraft, a religious sin, is here linked to other vague social transgressions. Parris and Abigail's strong concern about their reputations reveals how Salem's Puritan society required people to act according to its rigid social and religious rules. A ruined reputation could mean a ruined life in Salem.
Mrs. Ann Putnam barges into the room. Parris yells that no one should enter, but when he sees who it is, he invites her in.
Mrs. Putnam tells Parris this event is a mark of hell on his house. She then asks how high Betty flew. Parris denies that anyone flew, but Mrs. Putnam says witnesses saw her fly.
Thomas Putnam enters and says it's a blessing that the "thing is out now." Putnam remarks that Betty's eyes are closed, while his daughter Ruth's eyes are open. Parris is shocked that other girls are also sick. Mrs. Putnam says they're not sick: they're being attacked by the devil. Putnam asks if it's true that Parris sent for Reverend Hale from Beverly. Parris says yes, but just as a precaution. Putnam is certain there's been witchcraft, but Parris begs him not to say it. If witchcraft is charged Parris fears he may lose his ministry.
At her husband's insistence, Mrs. Putnam, who's had seven babies die in infancy, admits she sent Ruth to Tituba, who can conjure the dead, to find out why the babies died. Now that Ruth is afflicted too, Mrs. Putnam is certain that someone murdered her babies. Putnam says a witch must be hiding in Salem.
Parris turns to Abigail, who admits Ruth and Tituba conjured spirits, but insists she wasn't involved.
Parris moans that he'll be run out of town. But Putnam says Parris won't be if he stands up and declares he's discovered witchcraft instead of letting others charge him with it.
Mercy Lewis, the Putnam's servant, enters with word that Ruth has improved slightly. Putnam and Abigail convince Parris he should speak to the crowd gathered downstairs. Parris agrees to lead them in singing a psalm.
When Mercy and Abigail are alone, Abigail tries desperately to wake Betty. At the same time she and Mercy try to get their stories straight: they all danced and Ruth and Tituba conjured spirits. Abigail tells Mercy that Parris saw her naked. Another girl, Mary Warren, runs in. She's terrified that the town will condemn them as witches. She says they have to confess because the penalty for witchcraft is hanging, but if they confess to just dancing, they'll only be whipped.
Betty suddenly wakes and huddles against the wall, calling for her dead mother. Abigail tells Betty not to worry because she told Parris everything. But Betty says Abigail didn't tell that she drank blood as a charm to kill Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail smacks her across the face. She tells the other three girls that if they admit to anything more than dancing and Ruth and Tituba's conjuring, she'll kill them. Betty collapses back into her strange coma.
John Proctor enters. He reprimands Mary, his servant, for leaving his house when he ordered her not to. Mary and Mercy Lewis leave.
When he's alone with Abigail, Proctor mentions the town's rumors of witchcraft. Abigail dismisses them, steps closer to Proctor, and says it's all nothing more than mischief. She says they were dancing and Betty just fainted. Proctor smiles, and says, "ah, you're wicked yet, aren't y'!" Abigail steps even closer and asks for a "soft word." She insists he still loves her. Proctor admits he has some feelings for her, but says the affair is over. Abigail, hurt and angry, insults Elizabeth, infuriating Proctor.
Downstairs, Parris and the crowd sing a psalm. Betty begins to wail. Parris and the Putnams run into the room. Mrs. Putnam says it's a sign of witchcraft: Betty can't bear to hear the Lord's name.
Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey enter. Parris implores Rebecca to go to Betty. She does, and Betty quiets down. Parris and the Putnams are astonished. Rebecca says this is just an example of children being children, and adds that she hopes Parris isn't really going to claim "loose spirits" were the cause.
A disagreement arises about whether Parris should have called Reverend Hale to come search Salem for spirits without first holding a meeting. The dispute erupts into an argument between Proctor, Putnam, Mrs. Putnam, Rebecca Nurse, and Parris about town politics and grievances. The argument covers everything from Putnam's meddling, to Mrs. Putnam's envy that none of Rebecca Nurse's children has died, to Proctor's dislike of Parris' fiery sermons, to Parris's belief that his salary is insufficient and that there's a faction against him in the town, to boundary disputes between Putnam, the Nurses, Proctor, and Corey.
Reverend Hale enters carrying a stack of religious books about witchcraft. He seems eager to flex his authority. Proctor departs, but not before saying he's heard Hale is a sensible man and that he hopes he'll bring some sense to Salem. Hale examines Betty, but when Putnam mentions witchcraft Hale stops him. Hale says that the mark of the devil is clear. He asks them all to agree not to push the issue of witchcraft if he finds no evidence.
Putnam, Mrs. Putnam, and Parris tell Hale of the recent events. Hale and Rebecca are shocked Mrs. Putnam would send her child to commune with spirits, but Mrs. Putnam shouts that she won't allow Rebecca to judge her.
As Hale takes out a book about witchcraft and prepares to examine Betty further, Rebecca departs, clearly dismissing all this fuss as foolish. Giles interrupts. He asks Hale why his wife Martha reads books that she refuses to show him. Hale says they'll speak about it later, and gets to work.
Betty doesn't respond to Hale's question, so he turns to Abigail. She repeats that they were only dancing. When Parris mentions he saw them dancing around a kettle, Abigail says the kettle just held soup. Parris then says he thought he saw movement in the soup. Abigail says a frog jumped into the soup.
Troubled, Hale asks Abigail if she conjured the devil. Abigail says Tituba did. As Mrs. Putnam goes to get Tituba, Hale asks Abigail several questions: did she feel the devil's presence, did she drink from the kettle, did she sell herself to the devil? Abigail denies everything. As soon as Tituba enters, however, Abigail screams that Tituba made her do it, that Tituba made her drink blood.
Tituba responds that Abigail begged her to conjure. But Abigail says Tituba often "sends her spirit out" and makes Abigail laugh at prayer in church.
Hale asks Tituba when she made a "compact with the devil." Tituba says she never has. Parris threatens to whip her to death unless she confesses. Putnam yells that she should be hanged. Tituba screams in terror that she didn't want to work for the devil, but he forced her. She says many witches exist in Salem. Hale and Parris ask if she's seen them. Tituba says yes. Putnam asks: was it Sarah Good, or maybe Mrs. Osburn? Tituba hesitates, but Hale tells Tituba not to fear: if she confesses whom she saw, she will be blessed.
Tituba identifies Sarah Good and Mrs. Osburn as other witches. Mrs. Putnam shouts that she knew it! Osburn was the midwife at the births of three of her dead babies.
Suddenly Abigail stands up and shouts that she too wants to confess, to return to God. She starts chanting names of women she's seen with the devil. Betty wakes and begins to chant names too. Parris, Putnam, and Hale call for the town marshal as the girls scream out the names of witch after witch.
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• See quotes from Act 1