English III: American Literature
September 29, 2010
Credulity : Puritan’s Tragic Flaw
The willingness of Puritans to believe assertions with little or no supporting evidence leads characters such as Young Goodman Brown in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” (“YGB”) and John Proctor (amongst many others) in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to their gloomy or unwarranted demise. The origin of this flaw is Puritanism itself. For it “required that a man devote his life to seeking salvation but told him he was helpless to do anything but evil.” (Morgan). This ideology leads its followers to believe all men are malevolent, which results in distrust and social discord.
Characters in The Crucible make not only invalid accusations knowingly, but unknowingly as well. Mrs. Putnam accuses Abigail of witchcraft saying “They [her babies] were murdered, Mr. Parris! And mark this proof! Mark it! Last night my Ruth were ever so close to their little spirits I know it, sir. For how else is she struck dumb now except some power of darkness would stop her mouth? It is a marvelous sign.” (Miller 15). Regardless of the fact that this argument is nothing more than a conjecture, Parris acted as if it were a legitimate charge. A similar sustained accusation comes in the more formal setting of the courtroom. Mercy Lewis asks Mary if she “send[s] this shadow on me?” (Miller 101). while the other girls follow her lead and make similar claims as to Mary’s bewitchment, fooling the court.
Goodman Brown in “YGB” is easily convinced by the Devil that “the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints.” (Hawthorne 7). The devil makes Brown ask “if a retched old woman [the woman who taught him his catechism] do go to the devil when I thought she was going to heaven: is that any reason why I should quit my dear Faith and go after her?” (Hawthorne 4). Hawthorne shows that a man may just as easily doubt his religion as believe in it.
Even though credulity is too prevalent today as well, it has been nearly exterminated from our judicial system. No longer does our society sentence men to death or incarceration on purely spoken word. However, credulity is still found in places it should not be. We are always at a tendency to believe what others say is true (false-consensus effect). I have personally seen my opinion on subjects vacillate as others disagree with me. Although this is a disconcerting fact, it is somewhat comforting to know that one may not be subjected to a groundless prosecution.
I don’t think that we are the beneficiary of Puritanism. In fact, I don’t believe anyone is. I find that their bigotry has harmed the world’s already scathed history. They were against expression, diversity, and religious freedom. They egotistically believed that they were practicing the only true religion, and it was their duty to punish all those whom didn’t follow. The beliefs and actions were diametrically opposite: they believed that “man existed for the glory of God; that his first concern in life was to do God’s will” (Morison 102) and acted and judged as if they were the supreme rulers; disposing of all opposition.
Today it is still the religious fundamentalists that don’t believe in freedom of religion for it allows others to possibly challenge them. One must always profess doubt, for it is ironically the only certainty in this world. Practice healthy skepticism; don’t accept without proof. Many of tragedies of this world have arose from the reluctance of the public to simply ask: “Why?”
“The important thing is to never stop questioning.”
Word Count: 617