In what ways does Miller succeed in making the moment when Proctor tears up his confession particularly dramatic?
“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller shows many themes of what life could have been like in the seventeenth century. The play is set in the town of Salem, amongst a Puritan society. The characters in the play are deeply religious. Anyone who was considered to be a witch was condemned to death. Any sort of witchcraft was considered as worshiping the devil, which is totally against their faith. The story is based on a series of accusations which culminate in a large court case.
The main theme of the play examines whether or not the main character can remain truthful to his faith even if the result is death. This becomes apparent in the last scene of the play (Act 4) when John Proctor, is faced with the confession. Eventually, John gets exasperated with the court, tears up the confession, and destined to be hung.
The irony of whether Proctor will sign the confession or tear it up is dramatic since so much of what happened before is based on lies. He can either sign the confession and live a lie, or die for the truth. Proctor says on page 109, “I cannot mount the gibbet like a saint”, showing moral reasoning with cause and effect of the confession. This makes the theme more dramatic. Proctor understands that he has done wrong by having an affair with Abigail, and does not see why he should be forgiven for that, “It is a fraud. I am not that man”. All this builds tension, making the audience inquisitive about what John’s decision will be – will he live a lie or die for the truth?
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Near the start of the play, in Act 2, we see John and his wife, Elizabeth at home together. It is obvious to the audience that their relationship is plain and static. For example, John says, “It’s winter in here yet”, and “You ought to bring in some flowers”. These quotations suggest that John associates his marriage with coldness and the flowers could symbolise new life. It would give the impression that John would like some excitement in his marriage. However, by looking at act 4 we can see a contrast in the way they talk to each other. For instance, Proctor says, “The child?” and Elizabeth replies, “It grows”. Here, the couple are being more open about the way they feel. The child can be seen as the new life that was missing in their relationship before. With the child grows the rebirth of their love. This is dramatic because it shows that although Proctor is faced with death, he still has time for his wife and clearly cares greatly about her.
Great passion is evident in the relationship between John and Elizabeth in act 4, by the way they express their feelings. She tells John, “I never knew how I should say my love”, now explaining the depth of her love for him. Their once cold relationship finds the fire it was missing. Furthermore, Miller uses the stage direction in this sequence to add to the drama of Proctor’s eventual destruction of the confession. The author quotes, “He has lifted her, and kisses her with great passion”. This shows the affection that we previously have not seen in scenes, so this sequence is dramatic. Also, the way that the audience would be able to physically see their love for each other adds intensity to the moment.
Proctor experiences a moral dilemma through constant questioning. He is interrogated, “What is John Proctor?” This gives the impression that he is not seen as a person, but more as a symbol of what he represents. This is significant because to some, his religious virtues are questioned because of witchcraft. Secondly, Elizabeth forgiving him exaggerates the fact he deceived his wife. Also, the way he is accused of being a liar is compromised by the confession. This is dramatic because all these different themes rolled into one, make the audience engrossed in the play to discover what will actually happen to him.
In the last act, we see that Hale feels it his fault that people are dying, so he tries to make Elizabeth persuade John to confess by saying, “I beg you, woman, prevail upon your husband to confess.” Nevertheless, Proctor says, “Spite only keeps me silent, it’s had to give a lie to dogs.” At this point, we see Proctor taking the moral high ground, but also confessing by the way he says “a lie”. He is basically telling the people that it is hard to lie to people, who already lie themselves. Hale is trying to make Proctor lie with them. However, Proctor refuses to be forced into the lies. This is dramatic because it shows Proctor to be a person of great courage as he is being pressurised into this culture of lies, when he wants truth.
Towards the end of the play, Proctor sees that he has confessed to himself and God, and believes this is enough. He then says, “God does not need my name nailed upon the church”. This would give the impression that he is comparing himself to Jesus as he was nailed to the cross. Proctor is sacrificing his own life, by convicting himself for other people. This is dramatic since it gives a theme of spiritual drama to the play.
The whole climax of the story is when Proctor does actually tear up the confession in front of Danforth. “Proctor tears the paper and crumples it, and he is weeping in fury”. This symbolises as he rips up this confession, it is as though he is also tearing his life away for the truth. “Proctor: And there’s your first marvel, that I can”. This suggests that although he may be condemned to death, he can see that it is the right thing to do. It is dramatic because he once had a strong presence and now that he is faced with death, mortality makes him question himself. In contrast, he regains his virtue.
In conclusion, the theme of the play was rising over adversity, and standing for the truth even till death. John had the chance to free himself, by signing the confession and living a lie. At the trial he stood up for what he believed in, and died a righteous man. He learnt what truth meant through his suffering. This could be compared with how Jesus suffered, which reflects the depth of his religious beliefs to the audience. Through Proctor’s struggle, Miller displays the struggles within people of today. It reminds us that man is not perfect, and that we can make mistakes. It shows we can be forgiven by doing what is right. Overall, we experience an effective piece of drama.