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The parochial snobbery of these people was partly responsible for their failure to convert the Indians. Probably they also preferred to take land from heathens rather than from fellow Christians. At any rate, very few Indians were converted, and the Salem folk believed that the virgin forest was the Devil’s last preserve, his home base and the citadel of his final stand. To the best of their knowledge the American forest was the last place on earth that was not paying homage to God. (I. paragraph 10)
As part of the initial setting, the narrator explains why the forest was symbolically important to the people of Salem. This helps explain why the townsfolk responded in such horror to learn that the girls, with Tituba, had been dancing in the forest.
MRS. PUTNAM, as though for further details: They say you've sent for Reverend Hale of Beverly?
PARRIS, with dwindling conviction now: A precaution only. He has much experience in all demonic arts, and I-
MRS. PUTNAM: He has indeed; and found a witch in Beverly last year, and let you remember that.
PARRIS: Now, Goody Ann, they only thought that were a witch, and I am certain there be no element of witchcraft here.
PUTNAM: No witchcraft! Now look you, Mr. Parris –
PARRIS: Thomas, Thomas, I pray you, leap not to witchcraft. I know that you – least of all you, Thomas – would ever wish so disastrous a charge laid upon me. We cannot leap to witchcraft. They will how me out of Salem for such corruption in my house.
MRS. PUTNAM: Reverend Parris, I have laid seven babies unbaptized in the earth. Believe me, sir, you never saw more hearty babies born. And yet, each would wither in my arms the very night of their birth. I have spoke nothin', but my heart has clamored intimations. And now, this year, my Ruth, my only – I see her turning strange. A secret child she has become this year, and shrivels like a sucking mouth were pullin’ on her life too. And so I thought to send her to your Tituba-
PARRIS: To Tituba! What may Tituba-?
MRS. PUTNAM: Tituba knows how to speak to the dead, Mr. Parris.
PARRIS: Goody Ann, it is a formidable sin to conjure up the dead!
MRS. PUTNAM: I take it on my soul, but who else may surely tell us what person murdered my babies?
PARRIS, horrified: Woman!
MRS. PUTNAM: They were murdered, Mr. Parris! And mark this proof! Last night my Ruth were ever so close to their little spirits; I know it, sir. For how else is she struck dumb now except some power of darkness would stop her mouth? It is a marvelous sign, Mr. Parris! (I.89-94;103-109)
Parris is concerned with his reputation; the Putnams are concerned about getting justice for their dead babies. But even the Putnam’s “justice” is basically just vengeance. Although these characters claim to be deeply religious, their actions show that they only believe in justice on earth and not, as their Christian values would have it, in another realm. They want immediate satisfaction.
Enter Mary Warren, breathless. She is seventeen, a subservient, naive, lonely girl.
MARY WARREN: What'll we do? The village is out! I just come from the farm; the whole country's talkin' witchcraft! They'll be callin' us witches, Abby! Abby, we've got to tell.
MERCY, pointing and looking at Mary Warren: She means to tell, I know it.
MARY WARREN: Abby, we’ve got to tell. Witchery's a hangin' error, a hangin' like they done in Boston two year ago! We must tell the truth, Abby! You'll only be whipped for dancin', and the other things! (I.144-147)
Justice in the colony includes punishment for witchcraft crimes as well as dancing. This is, in part, because it is a theocracy, and long before the Constitution, with its enshrined “Separation between church and state,” was established.