Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’
Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ describes a time in Salem where a kind of communal hysteria takes center place and clouds all form of sound judgment. The story emphasizes the themes of manipulation and betrayal, where people do all they can to save themselves while condemning others. Through the main characters, Abigail and John Proctor, the two sides of moral authority are depicted. On the one hand, Abigail fosters to do all evil, in an act connected to vengeance. On the other hand, John Proctor seeks to uphold moral uprightness in spite of his persistent guilt following adultery. Many of the other characters are entrapped in the confusion between choosing the majority’s position of condemning others and bearing the trouble of upholding the truth in the face of opposition. Abigail in particular, has made it a personal responsibility to pass judgment indiscriminately, based solely on individual perceptions against others. Other characters such as Reverend Parris are forced into a position that deviates from their individual convictions on morality.
The themes of manipulation sets the beginning of the narrative. As the play begins, the children, seemingly dancing or practicing what was considered to be witchcraft, are under the influence of Abigail, who has made them believe that she has the charms to bewitch them. As such, the children not only go on to pretend they have been bewitched by showing all signs attributed to witchcraft but also go on a name calling spree after Abigail mentions the name of Tituba on accusation of dancing with the devil (Williams Theatre min. 12:46). Through most of the play, the cycle began by Abigail swallows all community members, bringing about mass hysteria and the feelings of desperation. The court is changed into a scene where judgment is issued by the children, and the judges such as Danforth make decisions based on individual perceptions concerning whether the children say the truth or not. As such, the children take this advantage to manipulate others too. For instance, Abigail pursues John Proctor actively, dangling the concept of the court before him. Similarly, the maid, Mary, threatens Mr. and Mrs. Proctor to treat her well otherwise she would have to support the idea that Goody Proctor is a witch.
Johnson (3-4) provides a setting for the play as depicted through the characters and the scenes. According to Johnson (4), the concept of the wilderness is intensively developed in the story. The people of Salem are covered with hideousness and desolation, as depicted both in the play’s pictures as well as in the words that characterize most of the communications around the community. Even in the most intimate settings such as the communication between Mr. and Mrs. John Proctor, which should be characterized by smooth talk and soothing, fear and accusations are predominant in the minds of the people. The city as a whole is overwhelmed with the accusations of witch craft and even those who attempt to uphold morality are isolated. People such as Reverend Parris and Hales are left fighting in between two forces, one of the dark and the other of the light which characterizes their Christian beliefs and convictions. In such an environment, straight thinking becomes far from the norm as the cacophony of imploring voices push contending thoughts to the edge. The religious men who attempt to go contrary to the spirit of religiosity that mars merciful and truth driven judgment are sufficient evidence of the kind of solitude that is bound to impact on those who choose to be different.
Hooti (69) explains this kind of isolation on the basis of the impacts of individual choice on future decisions. The person of Proctor depicts this phenomenon throughout the story. At the beginning of the play, Proctor and his wife segregate themselves from the communal happenings, creating a mood of detachment around themselves. To conclude this mood, the two even ask their maid to keep away from the courts and are hurt when she insists on going there. However, this detachment does not stand the test of time as the Proctor family is pulled into the ongoing trials as a way of vengeance against John Proctor for his past infidelity. Not only does the choice to be lecherous affect John through his persistent guilt, but it goes further to pit him as a victim of the public’s hysteria. In his independence, John is faced with the task to prove his wife innocent against the perceptions held by all in the court room due to the pretense of the three children. Hooti (70) describes John’s dilemma in this instant as a personal error, which has been dragged into the public domain against the will of the victim. Rogers (2) asserts that the case of John Proctor shows how one’s non- conformity to prevailing circumstances can make them victims of the same circumstances.
Azia and Qunayeer (241 – 242), presents elements of conflict and how the social ethics of a few individuals can liberate and create order in an entire community. There has to be a balance between freedom and order as shown in the play, whereby disorder is born from lack of freedom. People such as Judge Danforth, who practice religiosity without consideration of the truth divert the society from the course of justice. This is seen in the people who are mentioned during the court proceedings, yet are unable to tell the truth as they fear that telling the truth would imply they had earlier lied to the court and were thus liable for execution. The ability of someone like Proctor and Reverend Hale to stand against the truth paints the picture of the truth as a moral, individually forged and highly private affair (Rodgers 5). As others choose what to depict as the truth, they sway those who do not have the actual information about the issues at hand. As such, truth not only becomes abstract, but is also judged by the number of people supporting a piece of information and the seriousness they put into their attempts to sway others.
‘The Crucible’ tells the story of a dark era. It describes the efforts of the masses to deliver justice even with limited access to true information. As presented by Williams Theatre, the stage lighting also purposes to put across the message that the whole community suffers in darkness while only a few are considered to hold the light. Through the trials, the community hopes to find a resolve to their itching problem pertaining to witchcraft speculations. However, the lighting in the court itself is poor, an indication that even those in there are incapable of salvaging the community from mass hysteria due to their lack of accurate information. The stillness that surrounds the play is indicative of the overall dampening in Salem, where the voices of those considered to be true witnesses are all that is heard. Any other voice that threatens to disregard these perceived voices of wisdom is stilled instantly, such as that of John Proctor hence people only make efforts to conform to the common voices.
Aziz, Amal G. and Qunayeer, Huda Sulieman. Social hysteria and versus individual dilemma: A pragmatic study of character relationship in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. European Scientific Journal 10, 35(2014), pp. 238 – 256. Retrieved from eujournal.org/index.php/esj/article/viewFile/4874/4651
Claire, Gleitman. The crucible. The Arthur Miller Journal 9, 1/ 2(2014). Retrieved from www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-3561571691/the-crucible
Cohagan, Jerald. Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Faculty Scholarship – Communication, pp. 1 (2005). Retrieved from digitalcommons.olivet.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=comm_facp
Hooti, Noorbahksh. The quest for identity in Athur Miller’s “The crucible.” Journal of English and Literature 2, 3(2011), pp. 68- 74. Retrieved from www.academicjournals.org/journal/IJEL/article-full-text-pdf/B7E831D1017
Rogers, Jennifer. Moral absolutism in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. English Master’s Theses, 28. Retrieved from digitalcommons.brockport.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1027&context=eng_theses
Williams Theatre. The Crucible, 2013. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3hDrTAmDH0