Danforth’s Refusal to Postpone the Hangings: A Twisted Sense of Justice


In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, the fourth act and epilogue provide a chilling conclusion to the Salem witch trials. As the officials face mounting insecurity and desperation, Danforth’s refusal to postpone the hangings reveals a disturbing prioritization of abstract notions of equality over potential innocence. This article delves into the twisted logic that drives Danforth’s decision-making and explores the themes of reputation, integrity, and the preservation of order in the face of undeniable injustice.

Act 4: Desperation and Denial

Months have passed, and the situation in Massachusetts deteriorates rapidly. With their reputations at stake, Danforth and Hathorne visit the Salem jail to confront Parris. Parris updates them on Reverend Hale’s return to Salem, emphasizing his mission to persuade the holdout prisoners to confess and save themselves. However, Parris fails to mention Abigail and Mercy’s disappearance after robbing him.

Hale, worn and sorrowful, urges Danforth to pardon the prisoners, warning of the rebellion brewing in the town as a result of the trials. The consequences of the hysteria become evident: cows roam freely, crops rot in the fields, and orphans wander aimlessly. Fear of accusation permeates every home, and rumors of revolt spread. Yet, Danforth remains steadfast in his refusal, fearing that any postponement or pardon would cast doubt on the guilt of those already hanged.

Proctor’s Dilemma and the Weight of Guilt

Elizabeth converses with Proctor, revealing the harrowing reality of the trials. Almost one hundred people have already confessed to witchcraft, some like Giles Corey meeting a brutal end. Proctor questions whether he should confess, not out of religious conviction but out of spite, to make his persecutors feel the weight of guilt for his wrongful execution.

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After much internal struggle, Proctor reluctantly decides to confess. Danforth and Hathorne rejoice, eager to secure their own positions of power. Proctor’s confession is written down, but he questions why it must be publicized on the church door. The clash of wills escalates, with Proctor eventually tearing the confession in defiance. The consequences are dire, as Proctor and other condemned prisoners are led to the gallows.

Epilogue: Fallout and Reflection

In the aftermath, Salem suffers its own reckoning. Parris is voted out of office and disappears from the town forever. Abigail’s fate takes a sharp turn, with rumors suggesting her descent into prostitution in Boston. Elizabeth, however, remarries years after her husband’s execution. Eventually, the excommunications of the condemned are retracted, but the farms of the hanged remain barren and vacant for years.

Analysis: Danforth’s Twisted Sense of Justice

Danforth and Hathorne’s refusal to admit any mistake in the trials stems from their obsession with preserving the appearance of order and their own reputations. To question the guilt of the condemned would undermine the very foundations of the court and the state’s religious and political order. In their twisted logic, the preservation of abstract notions of equality outweighs any consideration of potential innocence.

Proctor’s refusal to participate in the naming of other “witches” sets him apart from the rest of the accused. His steadfastness is driven not only by the desire to honor his fellow prisoners’ decisions but also by his understanding of the value of his own name. Previously tarnished by his affair with Abigail, Proctor finally rediscovers his goodness and honesty through his refusal to sign the confession. In the face of death, he finds the courage to die heroically, defending his name and rejecting the transfer of guilt imposed upon him.

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Danforth’s refusal to postpone the hangings in The Crucible epitomizes a twisted sense of justice. Driven by the need to preserve reputation and order, he dismisses any possibility of innocence. Proctor’s unwavering refusal to succumb to this perversion of justice showcases the power of individual integrity and the importance of preserving one’s good name. Miller’s play serves as a timeless reminder of the dangers of unchecked authority and the courage needed to uphold truth and justice. For a deeper understanding of the play and its themes, explore the 5 WS page dedicated to The Crucible.

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