Character Study of Reverend Parris of 'The Crucible'

He's no one's favorite clergyman

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Like many of the events and characters in “The Crucible,” Reverend Parris is based on an actual person: Reverend Samuel Parris. Parris became the minister of Salem Village in 1689, and he was as involved in the real witch trials as Arthur Miller’s character. Some historians even consider him a primary cause of the ordeal, citing sermons in which he described, with great certainty, the presence of the Devil in Salem; he even went so far as to write a sermon titled “Christ Knows How Many Devils There Are,” in which he mentioned that “dreadful witchcraft broke out here a few weeks past,” instilling fear among the congregation.

Parris: The Character

In "The Crucible," Parris is shown to be despicable in many ways, some of which are based on the real person. This town preacher believes himself to be a pious man, but in truth, he is motivated entirely by self-interest.

Many of Parris' parishioners, including the Proctor family, have stopped attending church on a regular basis; his sermons of hellfire and damnation have shunned many of Salem's residents. Because of his unpopularity, he feels persecuted by many of the citizens of Salem. Still, a few residents, such as Mr. and Mrs. Putnam, do favor his harsh sense of spiritual authority.

Parris’ Reputation

Throughout the play, one of Parris’ main concerns is for his reputation. When his own daughter falls ill, his main worries are not for her health but for what the town will think of him if they suspect there is witchcraft in his home. In Act 3, when Mary Warren testifies that she and the girls were only ever pretending to be affected by witchcraft, Parris pushes her statement aside—he would rather continue the trials than deal with the scandal of his daughter and niece being known as liars.

Parris’ Greed

Parris is also motivated by selfishness, though he camouflages his actions with a facade of holiness. For example, he once wanted his church to have gold candlesticks. Therefore, according to John Proctor, the reverend preached only about the candlesticks until he attained them.

In addition, Proctor once mentions that Salem's previous ministers never owned property. Parris, on the other hand, demands to have the deed to his home. This is a power play as well, as he fears that the residents may cast him out of the town and, therefore, wants an official claim to his property.

Parris’ End

Parris' lack of redeemable qualities continues to show during the play's resolution. He wants to save John Proctor from the hangman's noose, but only because he worries that the town may rise against him and perhaps kill him in retaliation. Even after Abigail steals his money and runs away, he never admits fault, making his character all the more frustrating to behold.