by Arthur Miller
Where It All Goes Down
Salem, Massachusetts, 1692
In 1692, Salem was populated by Puritans who saw the world in terms of good vs. evil. The powers of darkness, which could wreak havoc and destruction on society if unleashed, were real forces to them. Real scary forces.
The system of government was a theocracy, which meant that God was the true leader of society, and he expressed his will through the actions of men and women. In the Old Testament, we hear stories of how God led his people directly through Moses; Salem, likewise, was led through men who were supposed to be directly connected to God.
In theory (if you believe in a loving God) this should work; but in practice, men lust after power regardless of their principles. This meant that God’s power was mediated through men, and men made the rules. Among those rules were strict guidelines for what it meant to be a Christian and what it meant to follow God.
Miller describes the forest as the last bastion of evil according to Puritan understanding, so the forest where Abigail and the girls danced was seen as ruled by the Devil—while the town of Salem was ruled by God. The entire play is about the moral contradictions inherent in Salem at this time, and how its strict religious theology became twisted and led to the deaths of innocent people.