Angelo Nicholas 10 Heath
A crucible can be defined as a heatproof container in which substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures, which may cause any impurities to rise to the surface. However, a Crucible could also be defined in two other ways: metaphorically it is a severe test or trial and a place, time or situation characterised by the confluence of powerful, intellectual, economical and political forces. The significance of these definitions illustrates how appropriate this title is to the play. Some of the characters are tested to their limits and crumpled under the pressure. Another interpretation of the word is how a crucible purifies metal, which is similar to how the people of Salem purify the accused who confess. The accused are tested to their limits to see whether or not they will fold and tell everyone they are witches to save their lives or if they will keep honest with themselves and risk their lives.
Miller chose the subject of the Salem Witch trials as it is clear hysteria, was the main cause of the innocent being accused in both Salem 1692 and Millers present time, America 1940s-50s. Both eras involved people of society accusing each other. In Salem 1962, people were accused of being witches and in the McCarthy era, people were being accused of being communists. The McCarthy era took place in the twentieth century. Those who were against communism like Senator McCarthy, in fear of downfall accused many of being communists even though many were innocent. Those that were accused were persecuted by other people in the community and blacklisted. The Salem With trials took place in the seventeenth century in Salem, Massachusetts. As in the McCarthy era, people who were even accused of being witches were persecuted. In Salem, many innocent people were killed because of the results of false accusations due to hysteria being blown out of proportion. It had no place in both societies, it caused chaos, paranoia, confusion, fear, hatred and in Salem 1962, death.
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In Act one of the play, Miller sets the scene for the opening of the play with stage directions of Reverend Parris “kneeling beside the bed, evidently in prayer”. Quickly, the audience are shown that religion plays a major role in the play and what seems to be one of the main themes too. The importance of religion enforced again when Reverend Parris cries, “Oh my God! God help me!” There can be several reasons for why this was said. It could mean to help his daughter, his congregation or maybe just himself. “God” is shown to be the ultimate judge or saviour in Puritanical society and the use of pronouns shows possible wealth and power. This is evident when Reverend Parris takes possession when he says “My God”, and could also be shown to the audience as taking possession of religion as well since he is head of society he may feel in his right mind to do so. Tension is also created when Tituba, “a negro slave girl” enters the scene and she is “already taking a step backwards”. This suggests to the audience that Tituba will play a major role in the play and that she has done wrong which the audience does not know about but they eagerly anticipate what will happen. It could also be evidence for racial minorities being treated differently. As Act one progress, we are introduced to one other main character: Abigail Williams.
Abigail’s introduction produces a lot of tension in the audience and continues to do so throughout the rest of Act one. When Reverend Parris questions Abigail on Betty’s, Abigail “lowers her eyes”. It is clear to the audience that it is guilt causing this and that Abigail must know why Betty is in such a state. This is also shown when Abigail spoke “with an edge of resentment”. This shows that there must be something in Abigail conscience causing her doubts. The audience are waiting in their seats to see when Abigail will break and no longer hide the truth away or do something else more disastrous. When the Putnam’s enter the scene these is a clear tension being built between them and Abigail and Reverend Parris.
Mrs Putman is described in stage directions as “a death ridden woman, haunted by dreams”. The audience’s first initial impressions are that she is a very hysterical woman. Miller’s description of Mrs Putnam reinforces the hysteria that lingered in Salem at that time and comes on to be another one of the main motives in the play. She is also shown as a very confident person when she speaks “full of breath, shiny-eyed”. Miller uses this to demonstrate what seems to be another main theme of the play: authority. The community in the play seem to care a lot about their place in society and will do whatever they can to prevent anything or anyone from hindering. Reverend Parris is forced by Mr Putnam into admitting the discovery of witchcraft. “They will topple me with this” is all what Parris has to say about it. This suggests to the audience that Reverend Parris’ main concern is his name in society but not what danger the congregation might be in and how his daughter came to be in such a state and that other children could get affected by this unknown fear that could be witchcraft. When Betty does not awake when Abigail tries herself, her threatening behaviour and its consequences emerge.
As soon as Putnam and Reverend Parris leave the scene, Abigail proceeds to Betty and asks her to awaken immediately. Abigail “furiously shakes her” and threatens to beat her. This threatening behaviour would cause tension in the audience as they start to realise how desperate Abigail but it may also illustrate her fury. When Betty awakens, she starts to shout out loud and in the attempt to restrain her, Abigail “smashes her across the face”. The audience might begin to wonder what Abigail might do next but also anger in the audience because Abigail had just smacked a small defenceless girl. Furthermore, Abigail threatens all the girls with a “pointy reckoning” in the “black of some terrible night”. Here Miller is putting across the theme of murder and also death once again in the play. They are interrupted by the entrance of John Proctor.
John Proctor’s entrance into the room sparks more tension, at first between his servant Mary Warren and then himself and Abigail. Upon finding his servant here he threatens to do “a great doing’” on her “arse one of these days”. From this, the audience’s initial impressions are that Proctor is a violent, strict, and blunt character. As Abigail tries to sweet talk Proctor, the audience see more evidence of this when he is “shaking her”. Miller also suggests that Proctor is short tempered when he I “growing unnerved” when Betty awakes yet again and starts wailing. When Reverend Hale finally arrives these is a lot of tension under the roof of Reverend Parris’ home which is also felt in the audience.
When Reverend Hale enters the scene carrying a dozen books, Reverend Parris comments on the weight of them and Hale refers to them as being “weighted with authority”. This alerts the audience that knowledge plays a very important part in society and within society this came mostly from books. When Reverend Hale is asked by the others what book he is reading, the stage directions show him answer, “with a tasty love of intellectual pursuit”. Miller uses this to show that Reverend Hale is a smart character and does not give into superstition although he talks of the “invisible world” which is quite superstitious – so there is also some complexity in Reverend Hale. Tituba is brought in to be questioned by Reverend Hale.
Reverend Hale intensely questions Tituba about her contacting the devil but she denies any contact. When all becomes too much for her, she breaks and pretends to have compacted with the devil. Tituba is “rocking on her knees, sobbing in terror” when she replies back to each of Hale’s words. This suggests to the audience that Titiba is clearly distressed with having to lie about compacting with the devil and as she is on her “knees” she is overpowered by Hale and the others. Miller could also be exploring feelings of people bullied by certain paranoid regimes. Following Tituba’s path Abigail and Betty start to chant names of town’s people whom they accuse of consorting with the devil. “I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Good Osburn with the Devil!” At the end of Act one, the curtains fall “on their ecstatic cries”. The audience on this hysterical disturbing note are curious to discover the aftermath of these accusations which the audience might not have understood and find it hard to believe that the supposed rational adults believe and are taking notice of the girls.
Miller’s motivation in writing the Crucible was to show how the terror paralysed the communities of Salem in 1692, was also paralysing the United States. During the McCarthy era, if you were found to be communist you would be accused of communism. Some of the characters in the play can be compared with a minority of weaker elements of American society. For instance, John Proctor could be compared to a communist from the McCarthy era through his evident protest and opposition of authority’s decisions and rules. Miller’s concerns wit conscience, guilt and justice develop into significant and thought-provoking themes throughout the play.