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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!
PUTNAM: Don’t you understand it, sir? There is a murdering witch among us, bound to keep himself in the dark. (I.103-110)
Mr. and Mrs. Putnam are convinced there is a supernatural explanation for all their dead babies. Though there could be a hundred other explanations for their only surviving daughter Ruth Putnam’s behavior (including her relationship with Abigail), they find it more comforting to explain it as proof of witchcraft.
MRS. PUTNAM, glancing at Betty: How high did she fly, how high?
PARRIS: No, no, she never flew –
MRS. PUTNAM, very pleased with it: Why, it’s sure she did. Mr. Collins saw her goin’ over Ingersoll’s barn, and come down light as a bird, he says! (I.75-77)
The rumors are already “flying” (boo, bad puns!) about the supernatural powers the girls might have.
SUSANNA, craning around Parris to get a look at Betty: He [the doctor] bid me come and tell you, reverend sir, that he cannot discover no medicine for it in his books.
PARRIS: Then he must search on.
SUSANNA: Aye, sir, he have been searchin’ his books since he left you, sir. But he bid me tell you, that you might look to unnatural things for the cause of it.
PARRIS, his eyes going wide: No – no. There be no unnatural case here. Tell him I have sent for Reverend Hale of Beverly, and Mr. Hale will surely confirm that. let him look to medicine and put out all thought of unnatural causes here. There be none. (I.31-34)
The doctor is the first to indicate that Betty’s illness might be supernatural (that is, demonic) in origin. Too bad he didn’t think to stick Betty with a pin. She probably would have woken up instantly! Reverend Parris reacts with understandable panic to the idea of supernatural powers unleashing themselves, but later he is one of the greatest proponents of this view. What causes this turnabout?