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“How Are Truth and Lies Conveyed in ‘The Crucible’?”
Arthur Miller was a Jew living in 1950s America. At this time, the Senator, Joe McCarthy, led an anti-communist movement. American citizens would be forced to give all names of people involved in un-American activities. If those accused did not stand before the committee, they would be blacklisted and they would have problems finding jobs.
Arthur Miller himself was accused of communism and he wanted to display his feelings about this matter. The story, ‘The Crucible’ is based on fact but it is an allegory. Miller used an event, the Salem witch trials, which occurred many years before, to reflect his views on the anti-communist hysteria. He believed that both events were very similar in the way that both involved people accusing others to protect themselves.
The play is set in Salem, Massachusetts, which was a theocratic society, which means that it was governed by the church. It was a very strict society and no pleasure was tolerated. In fact, people who indulged themselves in pleasure would be excommunicated. People at that time would have believed in witchcraft and the supernatural, and they would accuse people they didn’t like of being witches because they knew that it would be regarded as a very serious crime and the punishment would be severe.
The puritans were very strict Christians who would have been persecuted in Britain because of their religion. They emigrated to the east coast of America for a new life. They believed that witches were partners to the devil and the puritans searched Salem for supernatural activity.
‘The Crucible’ tells the story of how people in Salem would accuse others of being witches to gain land or revenge and exploit their enemies. Abigail is the main accuser in the play. At the beginning of the play, she and some of the other girls from the village were dancing in the woods. This was seen as indulging in pleasure, which was a serious offence to their religion, especially as at least one girl was dancing naked. Abigail knew that they would be whipped or excommunicated, so she told the courts that she had been possessed and that all the girls were involved in witchcraft. This was, in fact, the beginning of the witch trials in Salem and the hysteria that came with them.
At the start of the story, Abigail appears to be a frail, innocent, young girl, but we soon see that she is manipulative and controlling. She lies about witchcraft and she seems to convince all the citizens in Salem, including the girls involved, that her lies are true. Truth and lies are both very important in ‘The Crucible.’ Many false accusations are made and many shocking confessions are revealed.
This is a preview of the whole essay
The first lie starts from the very beginning of the play. Abigail says that she has been involved in witchcraft, which we know is not true. She only says this because she knows if they are caught dancing in the woods, then they will be whipped or excommunicated. However if they plead guilty to witchcraft they will not be punished as severely. We can see from the start how manipulative Abigail can be. She manages to persuade all the people in the town that witchcraft is going on. She even manages to convince the other girls that they were involved. She tells that Tituba conjured Ruth Putnam’s dead sisters, but she did not tell the fact that Abigail drank blood to kill Elizabeth Proctor. When the girls recognise this, she says to Betty:
“You never say that again!”
Moreover, when they continue to argue she says:
I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down.”
This shows us that by threatening the girls into believing her lies, she is in fact starting the hysteria of the witch-hunts. She possibly didn’t mean things to go as far as they did, but when she realised the power she had to get rid of people she didn’t like, she lost control.
However, she needed to know that she would be believed, so she started with the weak and vulnerable people. The first person she accuses is Tituba, who is a likely target, because she is a black slave and at that time people were very racist towards black people.
“She comes to me every night to go and drink blood!”
Throughout the play, Abigail and the other girls accuse many frail and susceptible people because she knows they will not be believed in court. For example:
“I saw Goody Osborn [midwife to Mrs Putnam] with the devil!”
As soon as she knows that the people in Salem will believe whoever she accuses, she starts to move on to her ultimate goal. She hopes to see the end of Goody Proctor. We first hear of her being accused in Act two when Mary Warren comes home to tell the Proctor’s that her name has been mentioned in court. We suspect the accuser is Abigail as does Elizabeth, but this is just an assumption. We see how convincing Abigail is towards the end of this act, when she tries to incriminate Elizabeth by informing the jury of a needle found embedded in her stomach, which coincidentally appears in the same place on Mary Warren’s poppet. This, in fact, is the accusation which eventually condemns Elizabeth.
“Abigail was stabbed tonight; a needle was found stabbed into her belly”
The second lie is possibly one of the most significant events in the play. Towards the end of Act three, during his court hearing, John Proctor finally admits to his adulterous affair with Abigail. The court wished to investigate this affair and John informs them that Elizabeth is aware of it, so they ask her to enter the courtroom and testify. However, she is not aware that he has confessed and she is told not to make eye contact with either John or Abigail.
“Look at me only, not at your husband”
The court then question Elizabeth as to whether Abigail, the Proctor’s former servant, was dismissed for her adultery with John. She prevaricates for a long time. This scene is full of dramatic tension, especially when we see Elizabeth panicking as to whether or not she should condemn her husband. When she is asked the question “Is your husband a lecher?” she eventually answers no.
Unbeknown to her, the first lie she has ever made, has condemned her husband to almost certain execution. In the book we do not get the full feeling of the tension in the courtroom, however, in the film the scene involves long pauses and we see Elizabeth desperately trying to find the answer in John’s eyes. This lie condemns John, because he was attempting to show the jury that Abigail is not as innocent as she appears. Unfortunately, this plan works against him and instead, he is seen to be the liar.
Statements of truth are also very important to this play. The first major incident is when Mary Warren tells the truth about what really happened in the woods.
“That were pretence Sir… I never saw no spirits!
She starts confidently and the court appears to be believing her until Abigail and the other girls try to break Mary down by chanting everything she says. Abigail pretends to see a bird, supposedly Mary’s spirit, but the other girls believe it is really there and they become wrapped up in the hysteria.
“Her claws, she’s stretching her claws”
The girls then repeat both her words and her actions until she breaks down. This is both frustrating and upsetting for Mary as she knows there is no witchcraft in Salem, but she also is aware that Abigail is very convincing and the jury will suspect the supernatural.
“Abby stop it!”
“Abby stop it!”
Eventually Mary gives in to the other girls and she accuses John Proctor of compacting with the Devil much to his surprise. She says that he came to her at night and he asked her to sign the Devil’s book.
“You’re the Devil’s man”
Proctor goes temporarily insane and he tries to take Danforth down with him. He says that he should never have started the affair with Abigail, and if he had not Abigail would not have started all the witch-trials. He also said he should have owned up sooner. However, he believes that Danforth is as much to blame because he has always known deep down, that Abigail is guilty and it is all just pretence.
“God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together!”
The last scene of the play is very powerful and emotional. This scene shows that John’s refusal to lie in fact costs him his life. The jury, Danforth and Hathorne, want to get as many people as possible to confess. This is because people like John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse are respected in Salem, and if other villagers found out it was fraud, the court would lose its good reputation. However, they do not wish to sign the confession because they have high principles and would rather die than lie again. Hale asks Elizabeth to beg her husband to ‘confess’ and lie to the court:
“I beg you, woman, prevail upon your husband to confess. Let him give his lie.”
She tells him that she will talk to him but it is not for her to decide as to what he tells the court.
“I think that be the Devil’s argument.”
Elizabeth goes to see John before his execution to try and get him to confess to witchcraft. This scene, especially in the film version, shows great emotion from both characters as they discuss what he should do. Although John wishes to live and grow old with his family, he is reluctant to live a lie. Elizabeth tells him that she is unable to judge him, and whatever he does, she will still respect him:
“Whatever you will do, it is a good man does it…I am not your judge, I cannot be.”
When Hathorne comes to see if Proctor will sign the confession, he eventually says yes. He tries to get John to tell of people he has seen with the devil, but he will tell nothing. When Rebecca Nurse enters we see the shame on his face, as he realises how he is betraying her and God by lying about witchcraft. She shows her shame of Proctor when she says she will not sign the confession:
“Why, it is a lie, it is a lie; how may I damn myself.”
He reluctantly signs the confession but it is short lived. When Danforth tries to take the paper away to place in the village, John starts to have second thoughts. He realises he could not live with being a liar and he could not teach his children how to behave when he had sinned so greatly:
“I have three children-how may I teach them to walk like men in the world, and I sold my friends.”
He wishes to regain his self-respect and he wants his name to be valued in the village. However he knows he cannot have this as long as his confession is held high in Salem. He rips up the paper and although we see him weep, we can see that he is content with his decision. This last part of the scene shows how many people are brave enough to die for what they believe in and the emotion is high. He marches with Rebecca Nurse to the gallows and we see her bravery for she believes they are going on to a better life:
“Let you fear nothing! Another judgement waits us all!”
The rest of the scene is seen to the beat of drumbeats. Hale asks Elizabeth to stop John, but she knows he has done what he thought was the right thing to do and she has no right to take it from him.
“He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!”
The last thing we see of the play is the accused villagers, including John and Rebecca, chanting the Lord’s Prayer on the gallows. This is very effective because we hear them stop one by one as they are pushed over to hang. Overall, this scene shows that sometimes doing the right thing costs a price, even death.
There is very different staging in the film and the book. In the play, all the scenes were set inside, which gives a strong sense of claustrophobia. There are just four scenes, and each involves dark rooms with high windows. This shows that the play is gloomy and it could relate to the cold and dark characters involved, such as Abigail. However, in the film, there are both inside and outside scenes. The insides were dull and dreary whereas when it was outside the skies were blue. This reduces the tension and it creates a greater contrast. In addition, pathetic fallacy was used, so when the play was ominous, the weather reflected this and the skies were dark.
The title of the play, ‘The Crucible’, is very significant and relates to the content. A crucible is a small dish used to break down chemicals in. This could be
metaphorically describing how the people in the play were tested until they broke down and confessed. Although the play was set many years ago, even today we still lie and corrupt in order to protect ourselves or gain an unfair advantage. For example, because of the New York terrorist attack which occurred in September, it is now open for people to accuse others who they may not like of being involved. This is mainly happening to Muslims and the accusers are probably racists. Nevertheless, people today are still happy to accuse others to help themselves.