How Does Arthur Miller Present The Characters of Abigail and Elizabeth and Shape Our Responses To Them?

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GCSE English Literature

The Crucible

How Does Arthur Miller Present The Characters of Abigail and Elizabeth and Shape Our Responses To Them?

The play 'The Crucible' is set the town of Salem, Massachusetts towards the end of the seventeenth century. The town of Salem was founded by the Pilgrim Fathers who followed the Puritan beliefs and practices. The Pilgrim Fathers fled from England so that they could practise their strict personal habits and morals in freedom. Amongst the many things the Puritans prohibited, the inhabitants of Salem believed in the Devil and that any sources of Witchcraft should be eradicated from their society.

The main influence on Arthur Miller to write a play illustrating the malice madness of the Salem Witch-hunts in 1690 was the American fear of communism that swept the nation after the Second World War. Arthur Miller, himself, was directly accused of possessing communist links which were looked down upon and was fined and given a suspended prison sentence. A year later, a court acquitted him and cleared his name, shortly before the first performance of 'The Crucible' took place. The story of 'The Crucible' has therefore been based on historic American events both in the 1960s and more recently in the 1950s.

Arthur Miller has presented the non-fictional characters in his play with different and significant character traits. This contradicts the stereotype that individuality was extremely rare within the Puritan community of Salem. Yet, the contradiction to this point is probably one of the main causes for how the small community became stirred into madness, superstition, paranoia and barbaric accusations.

In this essay I will discuss how Arthur Miller presented the different character traits of Elizabeth and Abigail to his audience to shape their responses to both the women.

I have already established that Arthur Miller has set 'The Crucible' in a small Puritan society which follows extremely strict laws and practises where individuality is unheard of. The intensity of the Christian religion of every inhabitant of Salem is shown by miller in the line 'I see no light of G-d in that man'. Yet, Miller has presented two of the main characters in his play as two extremely different women living in the constrained hierarchy which is the back bone of life in Salem.

Arthur Miller has presented Abigail as an orphaned child living with her Uncle Parris who has recently been appointed the Reverend of the Church and his daughter of similar age to Abigail, Betty. In the obvious hierarchy of Salem, children as well as slaves fall into the same category, at the bottom of the triangle. This hints that a seventeen year old girl is of little status within the community. Miller has presented this in the play by Danforth's repetitive referring to Abigail as 'child' especially in Act 3 in the court room.

'She is blackening my name in the village': Although Miller only portrays to his audience from the beginning of the play that there has been an unlawful affair between Proctor and Abigail he withholds any other sins that Abigail may have committed. Yet, it is obvious from the beginning that Miller does not want to present Abigail as an innocent and harm free girl to his audience and so allows his characters to hint of past events without exactly telling his audience full details displaying her deceitful and untrustworthy traits.

Miller, however, shows rather different qualities in Elizabeth. Miller presents these qualities through her Husband's opinions of her in Act Two: 'That goodness will not die for me'. She has been presented by Miller as a Farmer's wife as well as a mother to three young boys with strong Christian values. This is shown in her response to Hale's question as to whether Elizabeth has no belief in witches in the world, which would be considered a sin in Puritan beliefs.' I cannot think the Devil may own a woman's soul, Mr Hale, when she keeps an upright way, as I have. I am a good woman, I know it; and if you believe I may do only good work in the world, and be secretly bound to Satan, then I must tell you, sir, I do not believe it.'

She is presented as a well respected and authoritative member of the community for her higher position in the hierarchy than Abigail. Miller shows his audience that her husband, Proctor, owns a vast amount of land which would consequently mean that the Proctor family are rich within the Salem community. The richer a family was the more authority and respect it would have within a Puritan society proving again the significance of Elizabeth within the play. Even though Elizabeth as an individual would be considered inferior due to her gender in the 1690s her husband still gives her a high status within Salem.

Miller's presentation of both these characters and their respective positions in Salem influences the way Miller portrays their behaviour and outlook throughout the play.

As Abigail has been dismissed from working in the Proctor household as a result of Proctor's lechery with her it could be suggested that this is the reason why Miller has created her to own the traits of a power hungry child, and perhaps this is why Miller makes her do what she does. Abigail knows that she was successful in having and powering Proctor's love which is shown in the conversation they shared in Act One where Abigail says 'Aye but we did' in response to Proctor's denial that they never touched and this could have been a trigger into making her think she deserves and could easily get the same attention and power again.

It seems to the audience that Miller has presented Abigail to be two faced, desperate, deceitful and a liar to allow her status to grow within the community as the play proceeds as her innocence as a child seems to never be questioned by her elders. Miller has presented these character traits successfully for example, in Act One a stage direction says that Abigail spoke (with a bitter anger) after she (clutches him desperately).

Miller has presented Abigail as a stubborn and selfish girl in that she'd hurt anyone and jeopardise the well beings of her fellow Puritans for a little more power and respect within Salem by accusing anyone of being seen with the Devil. She has been presented to the audience by Miller to confront her respected elders with no fear and lead her peers into following her lies and by doing this Miller shapes her lies throughout the play so that she gains the rewarding and expected treatment from certain elders such as Danforth and especially Proctor. In Act One she snaps (with a flash of anger) and says to Proctor 'How dare you call me child!' which influences the audience into thinking she isn't a seventeen year old girl and therefore makes us respond to Abigail the way she wants Danforth and Proctor to, with respect and appreciation for her views throughout the play.
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Miller reveals to the audience from the beginning of the play of Proctor's and Abigail's ended affair. However, Miller has presented Elizabeth to still be Proctor's wife and this shows the audience that her ever loving and forgiving attitude and character reflects on her Puritan lifestyle and beliefs. 'As you will, I would have it. I want you living John. That's sure'. In doing this, Miller has shaped his audience's responses to Elizabeth to be of respect and admiration, quite the opposite of the audience's response to her husband's ex-lover, Abigail.

Throughout the play, various significant ...

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