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The first act establishes the primary characters of the play who instigate the Salem witch trials. Each has his particular obsessions and motivations that drive him to push for the trials. The first and perhaps most reprehensible of these characters is the Reverend Samuel Parris, a man who symbolizes the particular quality of moral repression and paranoia that drive the trials. Miller immediately establishes Parris as a man whose main concern is his reputation and status in the community, rather than the well-being of his daughter. It is Tituba who shows more concern for Betty than her father, but she is kept away from the girl's sick bed. When he discusses finding Abigail and Betty dancing in the woods, his concern is not the sin that they committed but rather the possibility that his enemies will use this scandal against him. Parris is distinctly paranoid, defending himself from all enemies even when they may not exist. The particular quality of Parris that renders him dangerous is his strong belief in the presence of evil. Even before the witchcraft paranoia, Proctor indicates that Parris showed an obsession with damnation and hell in order to strike fear into his parishioners. With the seeming presence of witchcraft in Salem, Parris now has a concrete, physical manifestation of the evil he so fears.
Abigail Williams is a less complex character whose motivations are simple; she is a clear villain with straightforward malicious motivation. Miller establishes that Abigail is suspected of adultery with John Proctor, a rumor that is confirmed later in the first act. Abigail demonstrates a great ability for self-preservation: she admits what she must at appropriate times, and places the blame for her actions at the most convenient source, Tituba. She then takes advantage of the situation to accuse Elizabeth Proctor, aiming to take her place in John Proctor's life. Abigail's lack of any morality renders her able to charge others with witchery no matter the consequences.
The third character who serves as a proponent of the witchcraft hysteria is Thomas Putnam. While Parris's motivation is suspicion and paranoia and Abigail's is mere villainy, Thomas Putnam demonstrates that his motivation involves his longstanding grudges against others; the witchcraft trials give Putnam an opportunity to exact revenge against others, and, as will later be shown, to profit economically from others' executions.
The final character who sets the witchcraft trials in motion is Reverend John Hale. Hale is perhaps the most complex character in The Crucible, a man who approaches religious matters with the conviction of a scientist and a scientific emphasis on proper procedure. Hale holds the contradictory belief that they cannot rely on superstition to solve the girls' problems but that they may find a supernatural explanation for the events. Since he lacks the malicious motivations and obsessions that plague the other instigators of the trials, Reverend Hale has the ability to change his position, yet at this point he finds himself caught up in the hysteria he has helped to create.
Neighbours like Putnam used the witch hunt to obtain land. He would accuse people of witchcraft and buy up land for cheap. Others had petty grievances. Abigail used it to get back at John and Elizabeth. Parris used it to rid himself of people in the church he disliked.