Character Profile - Parris



Opening Impression:

Parris is the reverend of the church and the first impression is that ‘there is very little good’ to say about him. In the very first scene, we see him standing over his daughter Betty's sick bed. At first the audience might sympathize with him. But then they quickly realize that Parris is just worried about his reputation. He is scared that if people think there is witchcraft in his house, he'll lose his position as minister of Salem and the fact that this concern outweighs his worry over his suffering daughter clearly paints a picture of him as selfish. Further examples of Parris's greed include: quibbling over firewood, insisting on gratuitous golden candlesticks for the church and demanding (against time-honored tradition) that he have the deed to the house he lives in.



Quotations & Analysis:





“Discovered kneeling beside the bed. Evidently in prayer”

Parris’ posture of kneeling could be reflecting his helplessness and weakness in front of his sick daughter. As Parris is shown to be praying, the use of evidently suggesting it is obvious he is praying and that he sees no other way of solving the problem.



“There is little good to be said for him”

Here the narrator, who is meant to have an unbiased view (although of course it is essentially Miller’s voice), reflects that the Reverend may think very highly of himself, however he does not seem to have a great reputation.



“In meeting, he felt insulted if someone rose to shut the door without first asking his permission”

This quotation reflects how Parris thinks that he has a lot of authority and has a higher status than the other members of the parish.   Parris also seems to like this authority and expects everyone to inform him of everything that happens, even the smallest of things.



“Like the rest of Salem, never conceived that the children were anything but thankful for being permitted to walk straight, eyes slightly lowered, arms at the sides and mouths shut until bidden to speak.” 


Parris is symbolic of the people of Salem where the society is very conservative and there is a lot of oppression. As an older man and minister of the church, Parris is one of Salem’s highest ranking citizens and embodies the lack of freedom in the town, which is one of the reason why Abigail, Tituba and others start to create the whole lies about witchcraft so that they can have more attention and freedom.


“REVEREND PARRIS is praying now, and, though we cannot hear his words, a sense of confusion hangs about him.”


“out of here…out of my sight”


Here it seems like he is confused about his beliefs, and is not fully devoted as he is mumbling at a time when he should really believe in god to help him out. There is a sense of worry in the tone of the stage directions.


Also shown in the quotations on the left:




“speak nothing of unnatural causes”

Parris is only concerned about his reputation, he doesn’t want the town to know that there is witch craft present in his household.



“hear him preach only hellfire and bloody damnation”

John Proctor points out what the Reverend has done for religion, as says that he has made it very negative and does not show any goodness of religion. This could reflect how Parris is a very one sided man, i.e. he only focuses on the bad side of religion, and likes the restriction; he seems to be against the freedom, dancing and fun which the girls in the play were having including her daughter, Betty.



“I can only say, sir, that I never found any of them naked, and this man is-“

His spineless selfishness once again when he perjures (intentionally lies in court) himself. He tells the court that he saw no naked dancing in the woods, yet we know that he did, because he says as much to Abigail.



“Thirty-one pound is gone. I am penniless.” “He covers his face and sobs.”

Most despicably we see Parris cry – not because of all the people who he's helped to senselessly murder, but because Abigail stole his money and he's now broke. By the end of the play, Reverend Parris is thoroughly exposed as the sniveling parasite that he is.



“Tonight, when I open my door to leave my house - a dagger clattered to the ground... You cannot hang his sort. There is a dagger for me. I dare not step out at night!”

At first it seems like he may have come to his senses, because he's asking Danforth to postpone the hangings. Abigail has flown the coop, making it pretty darn obvious she was lying the whole time. It turns out that Parris isn't pleading out of remorse at all, though; he's only concerned for his own life. He found a dagger in his front door, and is afraid that if respectable citizens like John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse are hanged, the town will revolt.



“If you desire a cup of cider, Mr Proctor, I am sure I-“


“Proctor turns an icy stare at him and breaks off. Parris raises his palms towards Proctor.”

Parris’ attempt to be kind to Proctor here comes across less as genuine remorse and more sniveling attempt to ingratiate himself with a man he has wronged as he now fears for his life. At this point we can clearly contrast Parris with Hale who both believed in witchcraft at the start of the play. Hale appears to have realized his mistake and seen the error of his ways … Parris on the other hand, fearing for his life, seems to be simply trying to please everybody to avert disaster.




Role in the Play:

Miller could be using Parris to reflect the restrictive society and how he reinforces this restriction, and fear that the people have by using religion to scare people. Parris is a symbol of religion, thus his character could reflect the restrictive nature of religion as it has been used to scare individuals, thus religion can also be used as a form of control. Additionally, the fact that Parris thinks purely from one perspective suggests that Miller is trying to use Parris to reflect the extent to which religion has affected society as it has manipulated Parris into thinking that restriction, conformity and lack of amusement is the right way to live life.