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The Crucible is set in a theocratic society, in which the church and the state are one, and the religion is a strict, austere form of Protestantism known as Puritanism. Because of the theocratic nature of the society, moral laws and state laws are one and the same: sin and the status of an individual’s soul are matters of public concern. There is no room for deviation from social norms, since any individual whose private life doesn’t conform to the established moral laws represents a threat not only to the public good but also to the rule of God and true religion. In Salem, everything and everyone belongs to either God or the devil; dissent is not merely unlawful, it is associated with satanic activity. This dichotomy functions as the underlying logic behind the witch trials. As Danforth says in Act III, “a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it.” The witch trials are the ultimate expression of intolerance (and hanging witches is the ultimate means of restoring the community’s purity); the trials brand all social deviants with the taint of devil-worship and thus necessitate their elimination from the community.
The theme of the individual against society is central to the play. Throughout we find evidence of the pressures on individuals to conform to what society expects from them. For example: girls are not allowed to dance, books other than the Bible are frowned upon, John Proctor is distrusted by many because he does not go to church regularly. This last example is taken very seriously because the society that Proctor lives in is built on religious principles. Anyone choosing to stray from going to church could be seen as rejecting religion and in doing so would also be rejecting and finding fault with the society that they lived in. This theme is then conveyed through the character of John Proctor. He realises he will have to take a stand against society in order to be true to himself. During the play John Proctor is called on to denounce his own wife, his friends and finally himself. He is put through an ordeal by conscience, eventually accepting his own death rather than make a false confession.
This theme is also conveyed through the setting and plot. Set in the small, tight knit community of Salem, the play's setting provides an appropriately claustraphobic atmosphere for the events that take place. The world of Salem is enclosed by strict moral and religious codes which inevitably encourage the growth of hypocrisy and the abuse of power. The confined setting of the play effectively reinforces the trapped emotional state of the principle characters.