The Reign Of Terror And The Salem Witch Trials: Reshaping Society

1219 words - 5 pages

The period of the French Revolution known as the Reign of Terror was similar to the trials and tribulations faced by the characters of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. The cycle of oppression, opportunity, and fear created the struggle for power that was key to the outcome of both events.
The French Revolution, beginning in 1789, was a lengthy process in which the people of France took over the government and instituted a Republic (Chambers). The overarching goal of the Revolution was to place the power of government in the hands of the people. For two years, whilst France was facing internal disorganization and external wartime threats, the government was run by a war dictatorship under Maximilien Robespierre, the head of the Committee of Public Safety (“Reign of Terror”). Amid much internal suspicion and fear, the Reign of Terror began. Much of France was politically divided, and Robespierre’s method for keeping the government stable in a time of crisis involved severe penalties for any suspected of plotting against the new government (Chambers). Soon the accusations began to fly and a handful of people convicted and killed for treason became thousands. Many of the cases turned into the accuser’s word versus the accused, and a government preoccupied with bigger issues often did not care to look into these cases, simply convicting the accused, supposedly to promote a sense of unity and control to the citizens of France, and to forewarn anyone who did attempt treasonous deeds (Chambers). Eventually, Marie Antoinette, guilty of no crime other than marrying the former king, was executed on the grounds of treason (“French Revolution: The Reign of Terror”). Many thought this was taking a step too far. The former Queen was well-respected in the nation, and very few believed she deserved death as a punishment. In the following months, the government was overthrown, Robespierre himself executed, and political turmoil once again gripped France (“French Revolution: The Reign of Terror”). However, the worst was over, and the executions were largely over with. The Reign of Terror had ended.
In late 18th century France, the majority of the population, consisting of poor commoners, had little control over their lives. The same was true for the women and children of Puritan societies at the time of The Crucible. Both groups of people lived in an age of political turmoil (for the Puritans, this was the age of King William’s War and similar conflicts) and had little say in their fate. Thus when the opportunity presented itself to have some control over others, they sprang. For the girls in The Crucible, accusing someone of witchcraft gave them authority. They were summoned to court to do “weighty work”, and the entire town valued what they had to say (Miller 58). For the commoners of France it was largely the same story. They had been given a voice, and they used it however they could. At first, it was often petty revenge that drove them to accuse their...

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