Arthur Miller builds up tension for the audience by skilful use of dialogue, entrances and actions. By discussing one or two examples of each, from Act Two, say how he does this. Though ‘The Crucible’ is set against the background of the Salem witch trials in 1629, it reflects the McCarthy anti-communism trials of 1950s America. The citizens of Salem (Massachusetts) had Puritan beliefs and were very religious. Due to their strong Christian beliefs, there was a great fear that people could form compacts with the devil and they even believed witchcraft and supernatural events really existed.
Arthur Miller describes the mass hysteria which hit Salem to establish to the audience the vulnerable, narrow-minded personalities of the characters, by their height of paranoia and level of anxiety. This obvious breakdown in Salem’s Puritan social order led to the tragedy that saw nineteen innocent people hung on the accusation of witchcraft.
Arthur Miller brings out the absurdity of the incident in the play, which is expressed through the struggles of the main character, John Proctor.
Elizabeth Proctor has been ‘cold’ towards her husband, which has tempted him to have an affair with their servant Abigail Williams. Abigail has fallen for John and wants him for herself. When she is found dancing with some of her friends in the forest, it is suggested that they had been tempted by witchcraft. The girls take this opportunity to accuse women from the village for performing witchcraft. Act two starts at a very tense part of the play, when Elizabeth finds out she has been accused of witchcraft by Abigail.
Throughout the play it is evident that Arthur Miller uses dramatic techniques to build up tension for the audience. At the beginning of the act this is portrayed clearly in the row between John and Elizabeth, through the use of imagery and dialogue. Elizabeth: “Then go and tell her she’s a whore.” The use of the word ‘whore’ brings a crude image in the mind of the audience. This kind of language would not have been used in a Puritan society, which immediately gains the audiences attention. Proctor: “I will curse her hotter than the oldest cinder in hell.” The fury and heat of John’s words increasingly become dynamic as it expresses his anger. The threat makes the audience picture hell and it links with the hatred and rage John feels for Abigail at this point in the play. The argument is built to a climax through the intensity of the dialogue and the anger expressed.
The row between John and Elizabeth comes to a sudden end by the dramatic entrance of Reverend hale. “Quite suddenly as though from the air a figure appears in the doorway.” This unexpected entrance adds to the excitement of the scene, and increases the suspense. Proctor: (still in shock) “Why Mr Hale! Good evening to you, sir.” By using the word ‘why’ we can clearly see that John is surprised and acutely embarrassed to see Mr Hale, because he has just arrived when the argument was at its peak. The suspense mounts rapidly, because the audience are curious to know how much of the argument Hale has heard. In addition they would also be wondering what brings Hale to the Proctor’s home.
The timing of Giles Corey and Francis Nurses’ entrance is ironic because they appear with the news of Goody Corey and Rebecca Nurses’ arrest, just as Reverend Hale is interrogating John Proctor about his belief in witchcraft. Proctor: “Rebecca’s in the jail!” The tension rises dramatically, because Rebecca Nurse one of the pillars of society who is a very faithful Christian is accused of witchcraft. Elizabeth: “They’ve surely gone wild now, Mr Hale!” We can clearly tell that the characters are genuinely shocked because we are not sure just how many arrests or accusations have been made, however we do know that they are increasing at a horrifying speed. The tension is built here as the sense of hysteria increases. This makes the audience fear what dangers are going to come next and they are literally on the edge of their seats.
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