The setting of Salem, Massachusetts in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is a setting that is accessible and relevant to the reader, as it is grounded in realism. Although it is different from our society, it did once exist, and therefore helps us understand what can happen in a fear based society. The theocratic setting is grounded in realism and Miller uses this to warn us that history repeats it’s self, and may do so again, as similar events happened in America in the 1950’s. Miller uses Salem 1692 to show us some of the implications of living in a fear based society, like having a good name.
In a fear based society, nobody is automatically trusted, everyone is judged by their name. John Proctor has had a good name his whole life in the village of Salem. However when he has information that could prove Abigail is not as good as she appears, he is conflicted between confessing that he had an affair with her and ruining his good name, or watching people he knows are innocent be convicted and keeping quiet. He does not want to “blacken” his name in the village. So he keeps the information to himself about the affair until it is too late, and nobody will believe him because his name is no longer good.
This shows that having a good name was so important in this society that you would risk your friends being convicted of witchcraft to keep your name ‘white’. Toward the end, when Proctor is about to confess to witchcraft, he refuses to sign away his name “you have taken my soul, leave me my name! ” He yells, and from this we see there is nothing more important to him. Similarly, Judge Danforth is fixated on having a good name. We see this when he is not willing to postpone John Proctor’s hanging.
He knows that John could be innocent, but if he postpones the hanging, the village could question Danforth’s judgement. So Danforth would rather innocent people die, than the court’s, or his reputation be put on the line. From these two characters, we get a sense of how much value a name can hold. The setting is vital in helping us understand this theme. Miller wants us to understand that in the close, fear-based village of Salem your name has so much value and holds your entire reputation. It must be kept ‘white’ as people make every decision about you based on your name. It s ridiculous events like this that happen in a fear based society. However Salem 1692 is grounded in realism, so we are forced to consider our own society, and what actions take place currently as a result of fear. Take the Boston Marathon bombings for example. The USA lives in constant threat of terrorist attacks so when a bombing takes place, most American’s and the rest of the world are quick to assume it was the doing of the Middle East, when in fact there is no evidence at all to suggest that. Miller is encouraging us not to jump to conclusions in times of panic or unrest.
In fear based societies, things often happen that we would now consider ludicrous, like suspicion being accepted as proof, Miller uses a setting that is grounded in realism to show us this. In Salem, 1692 people lived in constant fear of the devil, witchcraft and spending the afterlife in hell. Villagers were so scared of the power of the devil, and the horrors of witchcraft, that anyone who was behaving with the slightest suspicion, or was in any way different, could be accused of being a witch. This is because they had no other explanation for the behaviour.
This meant that people like Tituba (a black slave) and Goody Good (homeless woman) were easily targeted and convicted by power hungry Abigail. We saw this conviction with a lack of evidence with goody Osborne. The evidence used to condemn her was that she did things like cause “a black coldness” to climb up Mary’s back, and for her to have a stomach ache, and she mumbled. As “Witchcraft is ipsofacto… an invisible crime. Therefore who may possibly be witness to it? The witch and the victim. None other. ” The accused witch’s word cannot be trusted; therefore Mary’s word is accepted as fact in the court.
Another seemingly ludicrous result of living in a fear based society is when Abigail and the girls’ hysteric reactions to people are seen as proof. Mr. Hale even admits that he has “Seen too many frightful proofs in court” showing that he takes these reactions as solid evidence and reason enough to hang. By using this setting with such rigorous moral code, expectations and fear of the devil, Miller shows us how desperation can cloud judgement, and when fear and “common vengeance writes the law” suspicion can be accepted as proof.
We are more willing to accept what Miller is telling us here because it is set in a realistic society that we view critically. Miller creates parallels to other events in history, and even now, to this real society from history to show us that history repeats. The Crucible takes place in a theocratic society, meaning that the bible is fact and law, people make every decision in life to please god and go to heaven after death.
This of course means that witches are real as the bible states “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” thus the people of Salem genuinely believe “the devil is loose in Salem”, and witches must be sought after and killed. The Crucible was written in the 1950’s, as an allegory for the events that were happening in regards to communists in America. In the 1950’s people lived in constant fear of communists – America was at war with the Soviet Union, so if someone was seen supporting communism, they were accused of supporting the Soviet Union.
The trials to convict communists needed very little evidence and were very unfair, it is only because people lived in constant fear that these events could happen. Miller intentionally created direct parallels to the 1950’s with 1692 Salem. Having the drama set in 1692 allows us to view the text more critically. We are personally removed from it, and can therefore more willingly accept the ideas that Miller is trying to convince us of. The text is a warning of the irrational things that come out of fear.
By using this real event in history, and creating parallels with America in the 1950’s, Miller wants us to acknowledge that we are not above these people, history just repeats it’s self. We should be able to lean from the Salem witch hunt, and even 1950’s USA, but even today we still jump to conclusions in tense situations. The setting of this play is grounded in realism, it did actually happen and the characters just represent human nature. Once we recognise this, we see that all humans are capable of behaving in this ludicrous way.
In fact we still see this in today’s society in Guantanamo bay. As a result of terrorist acts against the country, and the fear of more attacks the U. S military will interrogate, prosecute, act as the defence council, be the judges in trials of people who are suspected to be terrorist (often by racist stereotypes, Muslim/Islamic men). This gives possibly innocent people a hideously unfair trial and further validates Miller’s point – That suspicion and accusation can be accepted as proof in fearful situations.
We also see from this that the setting must be grounded in realism, by creating links in events that happened in that setting, to other events in history, we are forced to accept these ideas as true. Miller warns us through the setting of theocratic Salem in 1692, an allegory for America in the 1950’s of the irrational actions that come from fearful situations and extreme societies. These ideas are accessible and relevant to the reader because the setting is grounded in realism.
Courtney from Study Moose
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