Arthur Millers play ‘The Crucible’ is, on the surface, a play about a real life historical event that took place in the small American town of Salem in 1692. A mass hysteria gripped the town because of accusations of witchcraft and compacting with the devil. This led to many innocent people being hanged. However, some people believe that if you look deeper into the play you can see clear parallels with 1692 Salem and 1950’s America. After the end of the Second World War most of Europe was devastated and left trying to recover.
This left the USA and the USSR as the two dominant superpowers, both of these heavily armed nations were extremely scared of the other attacking them and so came an arms race to try to beat the other side. Diplomatic relations between the two powers broke down and widespread fear of communism took over the USA. So began the ‘Cold War’. Senator Joseph McCarthy set up the House Un-American Committee to root out communists and their sympathisers.
This included anyone who had remotely left-wing views. Many actors, writers and musicians were brought before the committee including Miller himself. If you remember a crucible is a dish used to heat out the impurities from metals, you can see how it relates to Proctor in court being ‘heated’ to provide names and confessions. This is much the same as what happened to Miller who was also asked to name names (but refused).
To answer the question it has to be remembered that Miller intended that the play be performed on stage and not read like a book. He uses stage directions to convey to the audience some of the feelings characters are experiencing. On page 108 stage directions for Proctor say “With great force of will, but not quite looking at her”. The shows the audience that Proctor still cannot forgive himself for his affair with Abigail. It also shows the conflict between Proctor and Elizabeth and also Proctor and Abigail. Proctor also has a conflict with Parris, who he correctly believes is an incompetent fool. In addition to this he also has conflict he also a conflict with all the girls because he knows they are faking the whole thing.
Miller shows this by having Proctor go to court to try and prove the girls liars. He brings Mary Warren into Court saying, “She never saw no spirits”. He also has conflicts with judges Haythorne and Danforth. On page 113 he says “I speak my own sins, I cannot judge another. (Crying out with hatred)” The stage directions for this quote clearly shows this conflict. These conflicts are all of one particular type, conflicts with other people, except for the conflicts with Judges Haythorne and Danforth who could also represent Proctors conflicts with Authority. Reverend Hale has a conflict with Proctor because he believes that Proctor should sign the confession to live and not die for his pride.
At one point he shows his anger at Proctors decision to tear up his confession says “Man, you will hang! You cannot!. A lot of characters especially Proctor have conflicts with authority. Proctor has a huge conflict with the courts and also the church, although the two are very close together. This is where Miller uses him to explore his own conflict with McCarthyism and his own experiences before the House Un-American Committee.
On page 114 stage directions for Proctor read “Proctor has finished signing when Danforth reaches for the paper. But Proctor snatches it up and now a wild terror is rising in him, and a boundless anger” this shows very much how much Proctor hates the courts and could also show us something of Millers feelings towards McCarthyism. This is because both Proctor and Miller know that the courts/government are almost trying to bribe people into giving the names of others even if the others are innocent people that are being named to get them out of trouble or being named for some kind of revenge purpose.
To add to his long list of conflicts Proctor also has a conflict within himself about whether or now he should sign the confession and name people to save his life or to protect others and his honour and die. Miller also faced this (although he was only threatened with jail not death) but like Proctor he refused to name people and escaped without severe punishment. Elizabeth Proctor also has conflicts within herself as to whether or not to help John Proctor in his decision to sign the paper or not. In the end she does not help him and he must do it himself. This may show how alone you could feel when being questioned about your “Un-American Activities” in 1950’s/60’s America.
In the end of the play Proctor is hung for not confessing or naming names. This ending solves many of the conflicts in the play. It solves all Proctors conflicts with people and authority and also other people conflicts with him. However it could spark of new conflicts within people such as the girls who faked the whole thing and must be wondering whether they should have said something before people were killed or whether to say something now.
I think Miller is using his characters to show us different conflicts in society and the problems with people and how they can do things they ordinarily wouldn’t to gain an advantage or to escape trouble. He also uses the conflicts to show problems with high authority and how they could collapse if they were revealed to be wrong about serious things like the witch trials. I think Miller is trying to tell us something we should all probably learn from.