The Crucible

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The Danger of Ideology Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Puritanism and Individuality Theme Icon
Hysteria Theme Icon
The Danger of Ideology Theme Icon
Reputation and Integrity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Crucible, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Danger of Ideology Theme Icon

An ideology is a rigid set of beliefs that defines what an individual or community thinks. In the Puritan theocracy of Massachusetts, a government run by religious authorities, the dominant ideology held that the Puritans were a chosen people that the devil would do anything to destroy. Since religious men ran their government, the Puritans considered all government actions to be necessarily "good," or sanctioned by Heaven. This meant that any attempt to question, obstruct, or otherwise resist any of the government's actions, no matter how ludicrous, destructive, or ill-informed, was considered by the government and other Puritans to be an attempt to overthrow God.

Governments fueled by such rigid and absolute ideological convictions often fall into corruption and tyranny without even realizing it. In The Crucible, Deputy Governor Danforth and Judge Hathorne believe that they're emissaries of God, and therefore that everything they believe must be true and everything they do must be right. They never see a reason to reassess their thoughts and actions, which makes them easy targets for cynical and talented liars like Abigail Williams. Characters like Abigail recognize the court's narrow-minded worldview and manipulate it to their own selfish advantage

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The Danger of Ideology ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Danger of Ideology appears in each act of The Crucible. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Danger of Ideology Quotes in The Crucible

Below you will find the important quotes in The Crucible related to the theme of The Danger of Ideology.
Act 1 Quotes
I have trouble enough without I come five mile to hear him preach only hellfire and bloody damnation. Take it to heart, Mr. Parris. There are many others who stay away from church these days because you hardly ever mention God any more.
Related Characters: John Proctor (speaker), Reverend Parris
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

As the villagers wait for the Reverend Hale to arrive and offer guidance on Betty Parris' illness, Mr. Putnam accuses John Proctor of failing to attend Reverend Parris' church services. Proctor, in turn, criticizes the Reverend. Proctor feels that the Reverend's focus on "hellfire and bloody damnation" turns the parishioners away from their personal relationships with God, perverting the proper role of the Church.

Here, John Proctor presents a striking individuality at odds with the strict, communal ideology of Salem's Puritanism. Proctor challenges the church, and, thus the community, since Puritan society was based around the church. Proctor will later say of Reverend Parris, "I see no light of God in that man": Proctor is separated from his community by his determination to define his faith on his own terms, instead of the church's.

Proctor's request of Reverend Parris to "take it to heart" suggests that Proctor genuinely does want to make Salem a stronger, more genuinely faithful community. Even though he responds to his discomfort with the way that Reverend Parris runs the church by staying away as much as he can, Proctor also refuses to be silent and freely shares his views on how to improve Salem and the Puritan church (a habit that will ultimately lead to his arrest and conviction).


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Act 2 Quotes
I have seen too many frightful proofs in court—the Devil is alive in Salem, and we dare not quail to follow wherever the accusing finger points!
Related Characters: Reverend Hale (speaker)
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

Francis Nurse arrives at the Proctor home, revealing that his wife, Rebecca Nurse, has been accused of witchcraft and charged with the murder of the Putnams' babies. Reverend Hale first reassures Francis that Rebecca will be found innocent but insists, reluctantly, that the court must take the accusations of witchcraft seriously.

Reverend Hale, a good but weak man, feels himself powerless to challenge the power of the court. Since the Puritan church controls the courts of law in Salem, Hale has no choice but to recognize the court's decisions as sanctified. Salem's hysteria overpowers even the most unblemished reputations, allowing for the accusations and arrests of previously revered Salem citizens, like Rebecca Nurse.

Hale's speech also reveals the fear that bolsters the Salem Witch Trials. His unwillingness to challenge Abigail's claims stems from actual terror that the Devil is present in Salem, a terror that the church leaders use to manipulate their followers into blind submission ("we dare not quail to follow"). 

Finally, these lines demonstrate how powerful Abigail has become and how skillfully she has understood, and taken advantage of, the people's weaknesses and fears. If the court is willing to believe any "accusing finger," Abigail finds herself free to point towards Rebecca Nurse or Elizabeth Proctor or anyone whom she means to harm.

I'll tell you what's walking Salem—vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law! This warrant's vengeance! I'll not give my wife to vengeance!
Related Characters: John Proctor (speaker), Elizabeth Proctor
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Cheever, the court clerk, arrives at the Proctor home with a a warrant for Elizabeth's arrest. He explains that Elizabeth has been accused of sending her familiar spirit to stab Abigail with a needle. John Proctor protests, tearing the warrant, and demanding to know why no one suspects Abigail of lying: "Is the accuser always holy now?"

In this speech, John stands up to the Puritan court and church, laying bare the weakness and hypocrisy that have led to the warrant for Elizabeth's arrest. The citizens of Salem have always been rather close-minded and ideologically inflexible ("We are what we always were in Salem"), but now they have given into their paranoia, manipulated by Abigail and her band of "little crazy children." John insists that Abigail's accusations—and, therefore, the trials and warrants that result from them—are driven by personal vengeance, not truth.

The stain of vengeance is evident throughout the play. Most obviously, Abigail acts against those who have sullied her reputation or whom she hates, like Elizabeth. Earlier in this scene, we learn that Walcott has accused Martha Corey of witchcraft because she refused to give him his money back for a pig that died from his poor care.

John's sorrow is also driven by his own guilt: the "vengeance" wrought by Abigail upon Elizabeth is the result of John's adulterous affair.

Act 3 Quotes
Do you take it upon yourself to determine what this court shall believe and what it shall set aside? . . . .This is the highest court of the supreme government of this province, do you know it?
Related Characters: Deputy Governor Danforth (speaker), Giles Corey
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Act 3 opens with Giles Corey's interruption of the court proceedings. He wants Deputy Governor Danforth to know that he has evidence of his wife's innocence and that Putnam stands to benefit financially from the trials. In these rebukes of Corey's claims, Danforth asserts the court's power and derides Corey's attempts to provide evidence.

Here, in the dangerous and self-righteous Danforth's first appearance in the play, the corruption of the court is instantly apparent. Danforth refuses to listen to testimonies that contradict the inevitable guilty verdicts. He will ultimately distort and dismantle any arguments that the accusers should be suspected of giving false evidence of their own. Danforth believes that, as Deputy Governor of the state of Massachusetts, he has been selected by God to serve, and that his judgment is necessarily sanctified by heaven. Danforth stands as the ultimate representation of the Puritan ideology, which devalues any individual's beliefs in favor of placating (while also encouraging) the community's fears.

You must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time—we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world. Now, by God's grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will surely praise it.
Related Characters: Deputy Governor Danforth (speaker), Francis Nurse
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

John Proctor and Francis Nurse have collected 91 signatures of landowners attesting to the good characters of their wives, as well as Martha Corey. Danforth decides that each of the landowners must be questioned, and Francis Nurse expresses despair, saying that he had promised the landowners that they would not be punished for signing the petition. In this speech, Danforth coolly reminds Nurse that the landowners will come to no harm if they have committed no sin.

Danforth speaks, ironically, of the great clarity with which the court now can view and judge the accused: all men and women are either good or evil, and the court can consider every person either with God or with the Devil. "The dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world" has now past, according to Danforth. Even in the midst of the moral murk of the trials, Danforth asserts that telling good and evil apart has never been clearer or easier.

Danforth believes that the Puritan church and its court have been endowed with the great power to judge all people as God himself might. Danforth insists that only people who fear the light of God's grace could question the court's actions. In doing so, he stifles the voices of anyone who would speak out against the court, threatening them with condemnation: again, "a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it."

A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud—God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together!
Related Characters: John Proctor (speaker), Deputy Governor Danforth
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Danforth tells Mary Warren that she will be hanged unless she confesses so Mary turns on John Proctor, accusing him of having joined with the Devil. Proctor, prompted by Danforth to confess, instead declares that, "God is dead!" He then delivers this speech, in which he holds himself and all the men of the court accountable for giving into their fears, asserting that they will all burn in hell for these sins.

Proctor accuses himself of having failed to reveal the truth of Abigail's manipulations soon enough. He recognizes that Danforth and his followers know that Abigail is a fraud but that they give into hysteria, preferring to protect their reputations as interpreters of God's will rather than confess that they have erred in believing the girls' false testimonies.

Proctor, at last, locates the real "filthy face" of the Devil in Salem. It is found in all the villagers who fear to do the right thing and instead persecute and execute innocent individuals to preserve their power over the community. Danforth, of course, hears this speech as nothing but sacrilegious evidence that Proctor has indeed allied himself with the Devil.

Nowhere else in the play does the playwright's voice speak as strongly, ferociously condemning both the perpetrators of such self-serving, fear-mongering crimes and the bystanders who know the right thing to do but yet stand motionless.

Act 4 Quotes
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 . . may well be God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride.
Related Characters: Reverend Hale (speaker), Elizabeth Proctor
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

John Proctor has been sentenced to hang unless he confesses to his alliance with the Devil. Reverend Hale, holding himself accountable for John's sentence, pleads with Elizabeth to urge John to confess and save his life.

Reverend Hale's words to Elizabeth reveal a broken minister who has come to doubt everything that he once understood about God's grace and righteousness. He tells Elizabeth that it is better for John to live than to uphold his spiritual integrity and go to the scaffold professing his true innocence. Desperate for John to live, Reverend Hale argues that it may even be a greater sin to die for "pride" than to lie in order to live.

Reverend Hale finally sees how blind adherence to the church has led the Puritans away from God: "Cleave to no faith when faith brings blood," he tells Elizabeth. Reverend Hale asks Elizabeth to do the one thing that she (and, ultimately, John) cannot do: make two wrongs into a right.