Michael Day 10GO
GCSE English Coursework
What are the Key Themes of The Crucible and how does Miller introduce them into the Book?
The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller in 1952. It was set in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and tells us of the Puritan community. Puritans were extremely religious and felt it very important that their children learned to read the bible as soon as possible. To be judged a good person, you had to know your commandments and have a good knowledge of the bible and respect it. All the communities’ laws and teachings were based around the bible.
The atmosphere in Salem is described in the book as ‘acrimonious and joyless and was threatened by imaginary devils and the Indians’. The inhabitants of Salem had to work very hard for their money and the community’s laws did not permit them to have fun. Even reading a novel was described as having fun and so novels, along with many other things, were banned, they were also obsessed with sin and damnation. As Salem had a theocratic society peoples sins were a matter of public concern. So prying into other’s lives to expose their sins was encouraged; this is why Abigail was praised for speaking out.
The title, ‘The Crucible’ is interesting because a crucible is a container used to heat metals at a high temperature. The main reason for this is to remove impurities from substances. This is used as a continuous metaphor throughout the book. Some of the characters attempt to rid themselves of their impurities by undertaking heroic and brave decisions and actions. John Proctor refuses to name others who trafficked with the devil in Act 4: ‘They think to go like saints. I like not to spoil their names.’ This also emphasizes my point of the importance of a person reputation in the community. Giles Cory also refuses to give the name of the person who signed the deposition against Thomas Putnam and is killed for contempt. This is told to us by Elizabeth Proctor in Act 4: ‘He were not hanged. He would not answer aye or nay to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they’d hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law…’ We are told how he died the next time she speaks: ‘They press him John.’ Also the community, especially the judges, thought that the hanging of the ‘witches’ was preserving the towns purity.
The time the book was written, 1952, it was the time of the McCarthy Anti-Communist trials. These trials are the main reason that Miller decided to write the play as he felt that what was happening now was exactly the same as the events which took place in Salem in 1692. Miller himself describes the McCarthy trials as ‘a modern parallel.’ He says that McCarthy had been ‘ruthlessly determined’ to hunt out communists as the judges of Salem had been in 1692. During the trials, McCarthy, like the Salem judges, asked the people who confessed to bring others down with them. If the named nobody then they would be punished for contempt. This is like the Salem witch trials. Miller himself was called up and underwent a long interrogation three years after the book was written. Miler told them that he had attended a meeting of communist writers nine years previous yet when asked to give the names of those also present, Miller acted as John Proctor did some three hundred years earlier and refused to give the names of others. Arthur Miller did not just write The Crucible for its historical aspect but he used it to inform the public of the events in America.
This is a preview of the whole essay
One of the first themes of The Crucible is intolerance. People who did not follow the community’s laws or went against what was normal were seen to be a threat to the public and against their religion. The community’s beliefs stated that everyone belonged to God or the Devil. (‘There be no road between’). Anybody who had a conflicting opinion were said to be with the Devil. Intolerance did seem to affect the judge’s arbitration of the trials. Miller makes this apparent in Act 3, when Danforth says “A person is either with this court or he must be counted against it”. This shows a distinct intolerance to people who had different opinions and if they did so then they were against God. The overlapping of speech and interruptions are the dramatic devices which really bring out a character’s intolerance. Parris continually interrupts and we are shown that Danforth is intolerant, if not impatient, by the way he interrupts Parris and orders him to be silent. In Act 3: (In his first real outburst, in which his contempt for Parris is clear) ‘Mr Parris I bid you be silent! …’ I think that this is a good move by Danforth because the way the book is written, people automatically dislike Parris and so by doing this Danforth earns a bit of respect for himself and shows the audience and the rest of the characters that he is still in charge of proceedings. Despite this, Miller tells us that he is not sure whether he made Danforth evil enough. Another example of intolerance is when Proctor grabs hold of Mary Warren in a bid to urge her to say what she knows, or at least what he has told her to say. This physical contact is another dramatic device that Miller uses in order to portray a characters feelings and in this case Proctor’s urgency and desperation. This action could also have been put in to show Proctor’s more aggressive side which Mary Warren informs Danforth does not exist.
Another theme of the book is hysteria. This theme is probably the most important and prominent one. The trials only continue because people choose to believe what they are hearing about people despite the fact they may have known them all their lives. ‘In The Crucible the hysteria escalates because people choose to accept the accusations of others, not just out of religious belief but out of revenge.’ (Sparknotes.com) A good example of this is Abigail Williams who uses the hysterical situation to accuse Elizabeth Proctor to try and have John Proctor to herself. She was sacked from her job as a servant to the Proctors because she committed adultery with John Proctor and Abigail wants him back. She seems extremely desperate to get him back and I think that she would go to any lengths in order to get what she wanted. Unfortunately for Abigail, Proctor refused to let her have her way and eventually died knowing he had purified himself. Mr. Parris also uses the situation to his advantage by managing to join the court and tries to get the condemned hung so that he can claim their land. He ends up a part of the court and uses his newly found status to attempt to alter Danforth’s mental ‘path’ or in other words he attempted to make Danforth think as he did. Thomas Putnam also uses the hysteria to his advantage. Putnam and Francis Nurse had been enemies for years and eventually Putnam gets his revenge on his adversary by accusing his wife, Goody Nurse, of killing his wife’s seven babies. Abigail is the most obvious character who uses the situation to her advantage the most. Whenever she looked in trouble or when things were looking deplorable for her she pretended to be possessed in order to force the judges to forget the previous allegations and strengthen their belief in what she was saying. Basically, the hysteria grew in Salem because people could benefit from it. (Sparknotes.com) A quote: “It suspends the rules of daily life and allows the acting out of every dark desire and hateful urge under the cover of righteousness”. We find out that the accusations are false as we have a privileged spectator position. This is a dramatic device which gives us an insight into the truth of the characters and allows us to know what is true and what is false. Miller uses this to show us who is telling the truth and who is lying. As a result we are shown how out of hand the accusations have gone and also the character’s motives for their actions.
Reputation was very important in Salem. As a result the fear of being branded a witch publicly was immense. Miller uses Proctor, in Act 4, to show how morally important a person’s reputation in the village was: (with a cry of his whole soul) “Because it is my name! Because I can never have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” There are many examples of how much the characters care about their reputation throughout the book. Reverend Parris makes a remark to Abigail in Act 1 stating that he could be forced from the ministry. “…But if you trafficked with the spirits in the forest I must know, for surely my enemies will, and they will ruin me with it.” This quote tells the reader that Parris is more worried about his reputation than the welfare of his daughter and niece. The word trafficked could be important here. Despite meaning ‘trade in something illegal’, it could also suggest that there were other people present too. I get this impression because of the words alternate meaning of there being slow moving traffic or there being a lot of cars. In this case there could have been a lot of people. This may not have been Miller’s intention but it could be important none the less. There are more of these statements from Parris throughout the book. Miller uses the final action of Act 4 to show the significance of a characters ‘name’ in the village by using Proctor. Proctor makes the controversially heroic choice to be killed in order to save his reputation. The pace of a speech really emphasises any action in the play and it is used when Proctor makes his final speech. Every sentence in the articulation is around seven words long. Miller also chooses to begin most of the sentences with the word because. This repetition and the sentence length make his speech sound more heroic and poetic. In the video version, Proctor delivers this speech in a loud voice. By doing this Miller is making us think of Proctor as more of a man yet by Proctor crying we are shown his emotional side and we are also able to feel sorry for Proctor and allows the audience to really believe what he is saying. Also, because of the fact that The Crucible is written in a play format we can really feel as if we are one of the characters living at that time. The stage directions give you all the imagery you need and you can really imagine how the whole affair would have happened.
Another theme of the book would undoubtedly be the want of power. This is made apparent by Miller by using the young girls to be the accusers. In 1692 Salem, women were inferior to men by way of jobs etc. The only job which females generally undertook was a servant for other inhabitants of the town. They did this until they were old enough to make it in the world on their own. Children also had no authority or real importance in the village at this time so the fact that Miller chooses the accusatory figures to be both young AND girls is extremely important. I think that Miller really gets across how the whole trial had gotten out of hand and promotes the level of hysteria well by doing this. Usually nobody would have paid any attention to such wild allegations especially coming from young girls. This shows that the girls want some recognition and gain authority by accusing innocent people of witchcraft. The people of Salem’s biggest fear was the defiance of God and so when Abigail and her assemblage spoke out against witchcraft everybody heeded their words and gave them the attention that they wanted. By pretending to be doing God’s work the girls become more important than before and use their power to make people believe what they want. This is why they are believed and never themselves impugned.
One of the most noticeable themes of the book is heroism. Throughout the book there are many examples of this theme. The two most obvious events in the book which display heroism, if not somewhat controversially, are the deaths of Giles Cory and John Proctor. Cory’s death was heroic but it is possible to see the hanging of Proctor from a different perspective. It could be said that it was not a hero’s action to die but that of a guilty and cowardly man. In the book Miller, as well as Proctor, openly tells us of the characters mistakes. The reason Proctor chooses to be hung is because he could not bear to have his reputation tarnished. It could also be said though that he just could not bear the embarrassment of pleading innocence in order to save his life. John Proctor can be perceived as either a hero or a coward. I think that Proctor was a hero in this book. The way the book talks of him leads me to think of him as a well respected and highly thought of individual. I think that his actions were extremely brave and heroic. It must take a huge amount of bravery to go to your death even though you can get out of it.
Despite there being little symbolism in the play it is a definite symbolic representation of the McCarthy anti-communist trials of the 1950s. I have explained previously about these trials and how they led Arthur Miller writing the book so from this is it obvious that Miller had these trials in mind whilst writing The Crucible. Many people have said though that these two events are completely different in that there were (as far as we know) no actual witches in Salem yet there were definitely communists in 1950 America. In the book I noticed that Miller seemed to focus more on the unwillingness of the judges to believe that the accused townspeople were innocent and preferred to hang as many people as possible in order to improve their status and rank within the court. I think this because when Danforth’s judgement is questioned he informs the court of how many death warrants he has signed, this to me shows that Danforth thinks that the more people you have hung the more respected you become. It is made obvious to us that Danforth is an important character because when he enters everyone in the room goes silent. This could suggest that you are more important if you have signed a lot of death warrants. This use of silence is another dramatic device used by Miller to emphasise an entrance and to make the audience focus on the entering character. I personally don’t know how the judges didn’t see through the girls because when I watched the video I noticed a lot of things which prove the girls are lying. For example, in Act 3, Abigail claims that ‘a cold wind blows’ and blames Mary Warren for sending out her spirit. During this performance, John Proctor claims that Abigail is a whore and that he has committed adultery with her. Abigail immediately stops acting and desperately informs Danforth that she is not a whore or a lecher. This could have been a major downfall for Abigail if someone had noticed this. I am particularly surprised that Proctor did not. If he had the trials could have ended there and then and would have prevented the deaths of many innocent people.
In addition to themes Miller also introduces motifs. A motif is a recurring design, feature or melody. Accusation, Legal Proceedings and Confessions are major motifs of The Crucible. These appear regularly throughout the book and are the centre of action in the play. ‘This created a series of indictments even before Hale arrived’ (Sparknotes.com) and a reason for these people to turn on one another (revenge). The only way that the ‘witches’ could be found was through the accusations and confessions. The trials only continue as a result of accusations. John Proctor attempts to discontinue the courts proceedings by confessing to adultery in a desperate bid to expose Abigail yet it all goes horribly wrong and Proctor himself is accused of witchcraft! Proctor’s final courageous decision to die rather than confess to a crime he did not commit makes the judges rethink the whole case and decide to stop the trials before any one else died.