I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!
Reverend Hale is an intellectual man, and he has studied witchcraft extensively. He arrives at Parris’s home with a heavy load of books. Hale asks Proctor and Giles if they have afflicted children. Giles says that Proctor does not believe in witches. Proctor denies having stated an opinion on witches at all and leaves Hale to his work.
Parris relates the tale of finding the girls dancing in the forest at night, and Mrs. Putnam reports having sent her daughter to conjure the spirits of her dead children. She asks if losing seven children before they live a day is a natural occurrence. Hale consults his books while Rebecca announces that she is too old to sit in on the proceedings. Parris insists that they may find the source of all the community’s troubles, but she leaves anyway.
Giles asks Hale what reading strange books means because he often finds his wife, Martha, reading books. The night before, he tried to pray but found that he could not succeed until Martha closed her book and left the house. (Giles has a bad reputation in Salem, and people generally blame him for thefts and random fires. He cares little for public opinion, and he only began attending church regularly after he married Martha. Giles does not mention that he only recently learned any prayers and that even small distractions cause him problems in reciting them.) Hale thoughtfully considers the information and concludes that they will have to discuss the matter later. Slightly taken aback, Giles states that he does not mean to say that his wife is a witch. He just wants to know what she reads and why she hides the books from him.
Hale questions Abigail about the dancing in the forest, but Abigail maintains that the dancing was not connected to witchcraft. Parris hesitantly adds that he saw a kettle in the grass when he caught the girls at their dancing. Abigail claims that it contained soup, but Parris insists that he saw something moving in it. Abigail says that a frog jumped in. Under severe questioning, she insists that she did not call the devil but that Tituba did. She denies drinking any of the brew in the kettle, but when the men bring Tituba to the room, Abigail points at her and announces that Tituba made her drink blood. Tituba tells Parris and Hale that Abigail begged her to conjure and concoct a charm.
Tituba insists that someone else is bewitching the children because the devil has many witches in his service. Hale counsels her to open herself to God’s glory, and he asks if she has ever seen someone that she knows from Salem with the devil. Putnam suggests Sarah Good or Goody Osburn, two local outcasts. In a rising tide of religious exultation, Tituba says that she saw four people with the devil. She informs Parris that the devil told her many times to kill him in his sleep, but she refused even though the devil promised to grant her freedom and send her back to her native Barbados in return for her obedience. She recounts that the devil told her that he even had white people in his power and that he showed her Sarah Good and Goody Osburn. Mrs. Putnam declares that Tituba’s story makes sense because Goody Osburn midwifed three of her ill-fated births. Abigail adds Bridget Bishop’s name to the list of the accused. Betty rises from the bed and chants more names. The scene closes as Abigail and Betty, in feverish ecstasy, alternate in piling up names on the growing list. Hale calls for the marshal to bring irons to arrest the accused witches.
In a theocracy, part of the state’s role is policing belief. Therefore, there is a good deal of pressure on the average citizen to inform on the blasphemous speech of his or her neighbors in the name of Christian duty. Giles’s claim to Hale that Proctor does not believe in witches does not necessarily arise out of a desire to do his Christian duty—he may only be making a joke. However, the very offhand nature of his statement indicates that reporting a neighbor’s heretical words or thoughts is a deeply ingrained behavior in Salem.
Rebecca, a figure of respectability and good sense, fears that an investigation into witchcraft will only increase division within the Salem community. Parris’s declaration that a thorough investigation could get at the root of all the community’s problems proves accurate, though not in the way that he foresees. The witch trials do bring out all of the community’s problems, but in the worst possible way. The specter of witchcraft allows citizens to blame political failures, the deaths of children, and land squabbles on supernatural influences. No one has to accept individual responsibility for any of the conflicts that divide the community or confront any of his or her personal issues with other individuals because everyone can simply say, “The devil made me do it.”
Reverend Hale’s reaction to Giles’s story about Martha reveals the dangerous implications of a zealous witch-hunt. Ordinarily, reading books not related to the Bible would be considered an immoral use of one’s time, but it certainly would not be interpreted as evidence of witchcraft. But with Hale present and the scent of witchcraft in the air, the slightest unorthodox behavior automatically makes someone suspect.
Abigail’s reaction to the mounting pressure determines the way in which the rest of the witch trials will play out. Because she can no longer truly deny her involvement in witchcraft, she accepts her guilt but displaces it onto Tituba. She admits being involved in witchcraft but declares that Tituba forced her into it. Tituba’s reaction to being accused follows Abigail’s lead: she admits her guilt in a public setting and receives absolution and then completes her self-cleansing by passing her guilt on to others. In this manner, the admission of involvement with witchcraft functions like the ritual of confession.
The ritual of confession in the witch trials also allows the expression of sentiments that could not otherwise be verbalized in repressive Salem. By placing her own thoughts in the devil’s mouth, Tituba can express her long-held aggression against the man who enslaves her. Moreover, she states that the devil tempted her by showing her some white people that he owned. By naming the devil as a slave owner, she subtly accuses Parris and other white citizens of doing the devil’s work in condoning slavery. Tituba is normally a powerless figure; in the context of the witch trials, however, she gains a power and authority previously unknown to her. No one would have listened seriously to a word she had to say before, but she now has a position of authority from which to name the secret sins of other Salem residents. She uses that power and authority to make accusations that would have earned her a beating before. The girls—Abigail and Betty—follow the same pattern, empowering themselves through their allegedly religious hysteria.