Arthur Miller was an American playwright
who was born in 1915. He grew up in New York to a Jewish family.
He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1938 where he began to
distinguish himself as a playwright. His first plays were Honors
at Dawn (1936) and No Villain (1937) which won the University of Michigan
Hopwood Awards. His Death of a Salesman won the Pulitzer prize in
1949. Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953 during the McCarthy period
when Americans were accusing each other of Pro-Communist beliefs.
Many of Miller’s friends were being attacked as communists and in 1956,
Miller himself was brought before the House of Un-American Activities Committee
where he was found guilty of beliefs in communism. The verdict was
reversed in 1957 in an appeals court. Miller married Marylin Monroe
in 1956 but divorced her in 1961.
The Crucible is set against the
backdrop of the mad witch hunts of the Salem witch trials in the late 17th
century. It is about a town, after accusations from a few girls,
which begins a mad hunt for witches that did not exist. Many townspeople
were hanged on charges of witchcraft. Miller brings out the absurdity
of the incident with the theme of truth and righteousness. The theme
is conveyed through the struggles of Miller’s main character, John Proctor.
Act one begins with Reverend Parris
praying over her daughter, Betty Parris, who lies unconscious on her bed.
Through conversations between Reverend Parris and his niece Abigail Williams,
and between several girls, the audience learns that these girls, including
Abigail and Betty, were engaged in occultic activities in the forest lead
by Tituba, Parris’ slave from Barbados. Parris caught them and jumped
from a bush startling the girls. Betty fainted and had not recovered.
During this session, Abigail drank chicken blood to kill Elizabeth Proctor.
She tells the girls that she will kill anyone who mutters a word about
what happened. The townspeople do not know exactly what the girls
were doing but there are rumors of witchcraft.
John Proctor enters the room where
Betty lies faint. Abigail is still in there and she tries to seduce
him. Proctor is a farmer who has had an affair with Abigail a while
ago, but now he wants to forget it.
Reverend John Hale is summoned to
look upon Betty and the research the incident. He is an expert in
occultic phenomena and he is eager to show his knowledge. He questions
Abigail who accuses Tituba as being a witch. Tituba, afraid of being
hanged, confesses faith in God and accuses Goody Good and Goody Osborne
of witchcraft. Abigail and Betty, who has woken up, claim to have
been bewitched and confess faith in God. They name several other
people whom they claim they saw with the Devil.
Act two begins eight days after
the discussion at Parris’ house. Between act one and act two, Deputy
Governor Dansforth came to Salem to oversee the court proceedings.
Fourteen people have been arrested for witchcraft, and there is talk of
hanging. Elizabeth Proctor asks John to go to the court and testify
against Abigail and the other girls. John doesn’t want to get involved.
There is tension between Elizabeth and John since Elizabeth has not forgiven
John for the affair. Marry Warren enters. She was in court
testifying against the townspeople. She gives Elizabeth a doll which
she has made in court. In the middle of their discussion, Hale enters
to question John and Elizabeth, suspicious of witchcraft. Later,
Giles Corey and Francis Nurse enter to seek advice after both their wives
had been arrested. Next, the marshal arrives with a warrant for Elizabeth’s
arrest. Elizabeth was accused by Abigail for stabbing Abigail with
a needle through a doll. John Proctor protests but Elizabeth is taken
away in chains. Proctor demands Mary that she goes to court and testify
against the girls. He vows that he will fight the proceedings, even
if it means confessing his own adultery.
Act three takes place in court.
Francis Nurse, Giles Corey, and John Proctor present their case against
the girls to Deputy Governor Dansforth and Judge Hathorne. Proctor
presents a petition signed by 91 people testifying to the good character
of their wives, and Dansforth issues warrants for the questioning of all
of them. Corey charges Putnam on inciting his daughter to accuse
Corey of witchcraft in order get his land. Corey has a witness but
will not name him for fear of getting the man arrested. Corey is
arrested because of contempt of the court.
Proctor presents his case and a
deposition by Mary Warren saying that she never saw the devil or any spirits.
Abigail says that Mary is lying and she and the girls pretend to be bewitched
by Mary. Proctor, frustrated at the gullibility of the court, grabs Abigail
by the hair and exclaims to everyone that she is a whore confessing that
he had an affair with Abigail. Elizabeth is brought in to be questioned
about whether this is true. Elizabeth tells the court that John Proctor
never had an affair with Abigail in order to save his name, however, this
destroys Proctor’s testimony. Mary crumbles under the peer pressure
and returns to Abigail’s side, accusing Proctor of being a witch.
The girls pretend to be bewitched by Proctor. Proctor accuses Danforth
of being afraid to reveal the truth. Dansforth acts more to keep
the reputation of the court rather than for justice. Reverend Hale
now sees the evil in the court and denounces the proceedings. Proctor
Act four begins in prison where
Sarah Good and Tituba wait to be hanged. They have gone insane and
believe that Satan will take them both to Barbados.
There is rumors of an uprising in
a nearby town due to similar witch trials. The townspeople are afraid
of a similar riot in Salem.
Hale and Parris are now terrified.
They go to visit the innocent people in the jail and beg them to make false
confessions in order to save their lives. Hale believes that the
blood of the people who are being hanged is on his hands. He asks
Elizabeth, who is now pregnant, to tell John to confess to save his life
but Elizabeth will not. While Elizabeth is talking to John, she tells
him that she has forgiven him of his affair and tells his that he can do
as he will. John Proctor confesses that he is a witch, but will not
say the others are. After a few moments, Proctor is fed up with the
court, tears up his confession, and goes out to be hanged with Rebecca
Nurse. Hales pleads that Elizabeth ask Proctor to confess, but she
says, “He has his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!”
In The Crucible all the event flow
naturally from one event to the next. Everything happens naturally
from the natures of the characters. The fact that the story isn’t
contrived, and even more that it is based on a true story is interesting.
The result is so unbelievable. The incident begins with the girls
dancing in the forest and snowballs into a huge witch hunt. The plot
was exciting. There was sufficient conflict to keep my interest aroused.
There are a lot of tension and suspense in the story. It covers basic
human instincts and qualities. It shows the human necessity
for survival, and the lengths at which a person will go to save his life.
There is the idea of honor and truth. Proctor tries to keep his reputation
but gives it up to reveal the truth. Through his struggle he achieves
righteousness. All these things keep the plot moving. Proctor’s
relationship with Elizabeth can be seen to grow and mature. He continually
grows more pure in Elizabeth’s sight until she is able to forgive him in
act four. Proctor’ character also improves. He doesn’t want
to get involved in the court proceedings in act two but stands up for the
truth in act four.
Each character has his own distinct
quality. Most characters are distinctly good or evil though few characters
are really developed. The reader is only able to see one side of
each character. Even John Proctor, the main character isn’t as developed
as it could be. This is probably due to the restrictions of time
and narration of this particular genre.
Parris – A minister in Salem who is more
worried about his own reputation than the town or the truth.
Betty – Parris’ daughter. She is
faint in the beginning of the play and later accuses various people for
Abigail – Parris’ niece and Proctor’s mistress.
She is the leader of the girls who accuses people of witchcraft during
Tituba – Parris’ slave from Barbados.
She is the first accused with being accused by Abigail.
Mrs. Putnam – Wife of Thomas Putnam.
She first plants the idea of Betty being bewitched.
Ruth – Daughter of the Putnams. She
is one of Abigail’s friends who accuses people at the trial.
Mercy Lewis – Putnams’ servant. She
is also involved in the accusations of the witches.
John Proctor – Main character. He
is a good man, but has committed adultery with Abigail.
Elizabeth Proctor – John Proctor’s wife.
She is an upright woman who is accused of being a witch. She couldn’t
forgive Proctor for adultery until just before he died.
Mary Warren – Proctor’s servant.
She is one of Abigail’s friends and plants evidence on Elizabeth.
Reverend Hale – Self proclaimed expert
on witchcraft. He is a minister who at first believes the girls accusations
but eventually sees the evil in the court.
Deputy Governor Dansforth – Deputy Governor
of Massachusetts who believes the testimony of the girls despite evidence
to the contrary. He works more to keep the reputation of the court
than to seek justice.
Judge Hathorne – Judge presiding over the
Rebecca Nurse – Respected, upright wife
of Francis nurse. She is accused of witchcraft.
Francis Nurse – Rebecca’s Husband.
He had land disputes with the Putnams.
Giles Corey – Old cranky villager who accidentally
causes his wife to be accused.
Sarah Good – She is an accused witch who
becomes insane while awaiting her hanging.
Susanna – One of Abigail’s friends
who takes part in accusing the villagers.
Cheever – He arrests the witches.
Herrick – Also arrests the witches.
Is the jail keeping.
Hopkins – Messenger.
The play takes place in Salem, Massachusetts
during the 17 century. Since this story is based on a true story,
the setting is real. The fact that the story takes place during the
17 century is important. The community needed to be superstitious
and gullible in order for this incident to actually happen. Also,
the event needed to be in a Puritan society to have such an aversion to
witches. People in the twentieth and even the nineteenth centuries
would be too skeptical about the supernatural to believe the girls.
Also, they would be likely to dismiss the act of dancing in the forest
as just a little game.
Miller’s style is very simple.
He uses simple sentences and words which are easy to understand.
He brings out the evil quality of Abigail and the other girls and also
the gullibility of the judges. His style is easy to understand and
should be in order to be successful as a play. While using the simple
style, Miller doesn’t take anything away from the suspense in the plot.
The dialogues of his character are like actual speech. His words
are used effectively and doesn’t include anything not necessary for making
a good play. Many clever figurative devices are used. For example,
Abigail says that John “sweated like a stallion.” The writing is
really that memorable since it was not really written as prose or poetry.
However, certain images as the one previously mentioned are hard to forget.
The theme of the story was rising
over adversity, and standing for the truth even to death. This is
the theme for many stories and is always an exciting one. John, in
the beginning, wanted to keep distant from the trials. He did not
want to have a part, whether good or bad. When Elizabeth was arrested,
he was forced to become part of it. He went to court first to set
his wife free but after watching the proceedings, he saw that the evil
was not only being done to his own wife but many others like his wife.
As a result, he worked even harder to free the other innocent people, getting
himself arrested. Despite this drawback, he did not give up.
He had the chance to free himself if he testified against the others but
he realized that this would be wrong, and even though he wanted to free
himself, he would not if it meant bringing trouble upon others. He
cleansed himself at the trial, standing for what he knew was right and
died a righteous person. Though he stayed away from church, he became
more pure than the common Puritans, dying as a martyr like the original
apostles. He learned what truth meant through his suffering.
Through Proctor’s struggle, Miller
displays the struggles within each of our own hearts. Many times
we have witnessed some wrong happening to some other person and wished
not to get involved. However, sometimes, like Proctor, there might
be something that forces us in. Would we be quit after only saving
our wife like Proctor could have done, or would we go for the entire community
as Proctor did?
The story reminds its readers of
an ugly blemish on human history. It reminds us that man is not perfect,
and that we can make mistakes. However, even with these mistakes,
we can cleanse ourselves and purify ourselves by making what is wrong right.
The sufferings become to the sufferer like a crucible.