Study of the Crucible

1 January 2017

Throughout the study of Arthur Miller’s dramatic play, the Crucible a play with four acts, and the picture book, Belonging by Jeannie Baker, I now understand that the challenge to belong may be resisted or embraced depending on the protagonist and other characters throughout the texts we have studied in class. Miller uses language to show how a character can either resist to belong or can embrace it. Throughout The Crucible, Miller’s dialogue to show the connectedness of the characters to the theocratic society that they belong to.

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It is constructed in such a way that it anchors the characters in the 17th century, without being so archaic that it is jarring for the audience. Miller needed the audience to see the events as being from “another time”. The question and answer format for much of the dialogue is much like a court room trial in its rhythm. This type of dialogue is used throughout the play outside the courtroom scene themselves, this adds to the atmosphere of interrogation, accusations and the verdict. The language used by individual characters to establish their personalities and agendas for the audience.

For example, although he is a farmer, John Proctor has an almost sermon-like method of speech, whilst Danforth uses un-emotive and legal speech. Repetition of the words “hang” and “confessed” establish a sense of incredulity. This also shows Proctor’s resistance towards the community and that belong to the theocratic society is not what he stands for. Miller’s uses of dramatic pauses increase the tension further and a shift of power when Mary Warren’s tone changes towards John Proctor.

The emotive word choice, high modality and repeated exclamations, which are used to convey the conflict and represent the increasing disunity and paranoia in the community. The tender language that represents familial belonging is only evident very briefly in the play when Elizabeth and Proctor are open and honest with one another before he is to be hanged. Even during this moment of clarity, the language is exclamatory. This can also show how a character can resist or embrace the feeling of belonging. The use of juxtaposition and motifs throughout The Crucible play a major role in Salem society.

The use of light and dark throughout the play shows the good and bad of a person or the place that the person is in. Miller uses extensive stage directions and commentary to show this. “It is a low, dark and rather long living room” this quote is used to describe the Proctor’s living room. He uses the excessive use of commentary to show how a dark room hides secrets of a person’s past or the secrets the person hides. The use of motifs show how a person in the Salem society can challenge ones feeling to belong to the community.

Jeannie Baker’s belonging it shows the difference between a community that doesn’t belong at the start and changes to become one. This is what the Salem society but the other way around. Salem community was one at the start and then changes and the Puritanical society starts to “crumble”. This can also ‘crumble’ a person’s understanding of a community and a person can either move towards the community or completely resist a community based on what the character believes in. Historical setting is used as a backdrop to explore the psyche and the values of the towns inhabitants. They believed, in short, that they held in their steady hands the candle that would light the world”. Miller used this to show what happened in the time of the witch hunt trials and compared it to his modern day society. This was important to Miller that he shows how his society was really like trying to place it back to the witch hunts trials. The forceful and confronting use of imagery such as “his eyes were like coals and his fingers claw my neck” stress the growing absence of any sense of communal belonging. This makes the reader feel what the character was feeling and how the character felt from their point of view.

Proctor chooses not to belong to the Salem community by failing to conform to the Puritanical society. His refusal to name others reveals his humanity and his understanding of true communal belonging. “I have three children – how may I teach them to walk like men in the world, and I sold my friends? ” Proctor is an independent thinker who resists the authoritarian demands of the Church leaders such as Reverend Parris who is dividing the community through his obsession with hell and the Devil: “I like not the smell of this ‘authority’”!

The community was founded on obedience and compliance to the Church, so people like Proctor who question the authority and who has elected to live out of town, are regarded as threatening the cohesion and beliefs of Salem. True communal belonging can only be achieved through understanding, tolerance and compassion. Mob mentality unites the members of the community who are bitter, ambitious and jealous against those individuals who represent reason and integrity. Communal belonging can be restored by individuals with a strong sense of integrity, loyalty and compassion. Rebecca Nurse, more than any other character, exemplifies the ttitude and values that are essential for a strong, supportive community. From the beginning, she questions the presence of evil and witchcraft, and begs for common sense to prevail. She identifies the real cause of the hysteria and echoes Miller’s sentiments that it is our flaws that divide a community: “Let us rather blame ourselves… ” Her death shocks other members of the Salem community, such as Proctor and Giles, to challenge the actions of the girls and the court. Individuals have the power to destroy communal belonging when a community is weakened by self-interest, envy and the absence of trust.

Several individuals in the play are responsible for the destruction of communal belonging in Salem, but they would not have had the power to achieve this if the unity of the community was not questionable. “Long-held hatreds of neighbours could now be openly expressed, and vengeance taken…” The pressure to belong and conform has the potential to threaten individuality and independent thought. Belonging to a community or a group is not always a positive thing. To maintain the cohesion, power and authority of the community or group, individuals could be forced to conform and suppress their individuality.

Freedom and independence can become casualties of conformity. “A person is either with this court or he must be counted against it” Proctor’s individual spirit is further revealed through his high value of his “name” and reputation, which he holds in such high esteem that he equates them with his soul. When Abigail accuses his wife of witchcraft and all his attempts to prove her innocent fail, he puts his very soul and life on the line, admitting to lechery in an attempt to disprove Abigail. That the Puritan judges refuse to believe him shows the depth of their distrust of the individual.

Proctor is eventually accused of wizardry, and is tempted with the possibility of innocence if he only admits his guilt. In conflict with his very nature, he begins to sign the confession, but refuses to hand it over to the authorities. His identity is in crisis, with the choice between dying like the honest man he wishes he were, and with living the life of a lying, lecherous sinner. His individual morality wins in the end, and he chooses to do what he sees as right despite the consequences. He tears his confession to shreds, declaring “…

I think I see some goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs,” as he goes to his death. His tragic end is an indication that Puritan society is not yet ready to completely abandon its traditions. Reverend Hale is another example of the Puritan shift towards individuality. Although he first enters Salem determined to seek out the Devil and “… crush him utterly if he has shown his face,” he sees the injustice being done to those accused of witchcraft, ultimately denouncing the trials and even sacrificing his orthodox faith.

Hale is a highly educated intellectual who applies reason even to the pursuit of Satan. It is natural, therefore, that he should see the glaring errors in logic at the Salem trials. He first resists his reasoning, but later cannot possibly fail to see that the trials are a sham. At the play’s close, he tries to convince the condemned to confess to what he knows are lies, reasoning “cleave to no faith when faith brings blood. It is a mistaken law that leads you to sacrifice… Life is God’s most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it. Despite the eloquence of his pleas, the prisoners are not swayed, preferring to die honestly than to live a lie. Hale’s own change is readily apparent, however, as he turns from the blindness of faith to reason and an individual spirituality. He now embodies a more modern, liberal belief. Abigail Williams is a representation of the dangers of individuality. As is typical of teens, she is rebellious and unwilling to conform to the standards of her community. She has also been prematurely thrust into independence by the deaths of her parents.

Her immature individuality manifests itself as selfishness, greed, and egotism. The entire witch hysteria is a result of her self-serving lies and machinations. Her lying accusations of Proctor’s wife eventually lead to the condemnation of her lover, and she and another of the girls “afflicted by witchcraft” flee Salem by ship after stealing money belonging to Reverend Parris, her uncle. Throughout the study of The Crucible it has shown me that a person’s challenge to resist or embrace the thought of belonging to a society like Salem can change through the minds of a person

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