Arthur Miller wrote “The Crucible” for his beliefs in McCarthyism, rampant at that time. He was against it – being a hunt of the communist figures, no matter how questionable they being communist in the slightest. It was sparked by a fear that Russia was going to take over the world. Making people scared and suspicious, Miller had to be subtle in expressing his anti McCarthyist views, so he used an allegory – a play.
This play used the Salem witch hunt, similar because of the unsupported accusations, the people encouraged to denounce their friends, and fear and suspicion. The Salem witch hunt was more brutal, with the “witches” being killed, with only people’s accusations as evidence. Miller had to recontextualize the story, to stop accusations against him. The first words spoken being “My Betty be hearty soon?”. The title is fitting as a crucible is a container where metals are purified after heating. It reflects how Proctor has been heated by his ordeal and came through to die, his conscience clear – purified. I will explore the techniques used in creating the play, to create various moods in the mind of the audience, in Act I.
In Act I we find Parris’s and Mrs. Put’m’s children – Betty and Ruth, inanimate on their beds. People are jumping to the Devil and Parris is putting that off, scared for his name in the village. We find that Abigail and friends had been dancing in the woods. We do get clues that the girls are faking their illness, as Betty wakes up when Parris leaves the room, we find Abigail quickly becomes the leader; an expert is called in – Mr. Hale.
Abigail takes the chance to talk to John Proctor, who becomes the main character. Tituba. Parris’s slave, as usual is blamed for witching the two children in the woods. This cause a lot of the girls to say they saw each other with the Devil. In terms of this plot tension is created within the audience. The secrecy and mistrust creates this. Talking behind people’s backs and the ducking and diving which takes place is the cause. How the plot thickens so quickly would make the audience more uneasy. The dramatic irony with the talking behind each others backs creates tension, and involves them more; they want to see what happens.
The techniques used to create meaning for the reader, is the overture and the prose on the characters. The reader trusts the prose and they give information on the characters, they are there because there can be no nuances or subtext in the speech, creating a fast story, the prose slows it down, getting the reader more involved. An audience wouldn’t have these to guide them, it would be up to the actors to read the prose and interpret them in their acting.
The play was performed when McCarthyism was at its peak, so it would be blindingly obvious to the American audience what it was about. The allegory would mean the audience would relate to it, creating tension when they think it’s about 1 thing, then realize it’s about something else. The time the story is set in is a somber time, spooky because of the black garments and archaic speech, immediately making the audience uneasy, the first words spoken being “My Betty be hearty soon?” This inverted language makes it seem more Biblical and legal, heightening the impact they have as does the syntax. The older time distances us, making the characters seem austere and quite oppressive. The double-negative furthers the tension by adding confusion, making it more farcical, which further distances us.
Claustrophobia, furthers the tension as there is no escape for the characters, they are trapped which makes the audience feel trapped as well. The first thing we find is that Parris’s room is small, with narrow windows and leaded panes like a prison – this creates claustrophobia. Parris is trapped, making the audience more susceptible to panic. He is also kneeling – he is suppressed by God, it bears down on him. Laws and limitations create claustrophobia as well. “Not have permitted anyone to read a novel” This shows how small minded the laws were, consequently making the people small minded. Not being able to explore themselves and their emotions, making them bland with no escape from reality.
“Their creed forbade … vain enjoyment” Shows how religiously they stuck to their beliefs, making their lives bland and boring, and possibly more excitable over the out-of-the-ordinary. “The edge of the wilderness was close by” The wilderness was the Devils land, they were locked in their town nothing else existed. “It stood dark and threatening” How they were held in place, scared to go further. “They believed…they held…the candle that would light the world” Shows how small minded they were; the Devils land was irrelevant.
Parris makes the audience feel angry and frustrated by the fact that he is supposed to be a leader. He is pompous – “then the Doctor must search on”, unpopular and paranoid – “a faction to drive me from pulpit”, unjust – “Out of my sight!”, ambitious – “do not preach for children”, cowardly – “they will hound me out of Salem”, greedy – “not used to this poverty”, hypocritical – in defense of Abigail he calls others witches, overly pious – “send for Reverend Hale”, dishonest and vain in covering truth – “Uncle the rumour of witchcraft is all about”.
So he is not a particularly pleasant person. If he denies witchcraft in his own home it could seem dishonorable and suspicious so he doesn’t. Even so the audience would realize his difficult position, and give him room to breathe. Abigail is a big character, she schemes her way to becoming the leader of the witches – “Now look you, all of you”. She is fearful of her name in the village – “Not I, sir – Tituba and Ruth” This gives her a good position, she can scheme to save herself and being manipulative – “Now if they be questioning us…”.
The audience can relate to her to an extent, everyone can be a leader and scheme; this also makes her the “baddie” the audience will be interested in knowing what happens to her. Proctor is the character to which we can relate to, the main one. Through Proctor we have a medium in which we can see something and consider ideas. As does Hale, it put us in their shoes. Proctor sees Abigail as a child, strengthening our bond with him. He also sees through Parris, who we find being very greedy with his fire – wood money. Also Giles sued him and he paid up although Giles just misheard him – “I’ve paid you for it” Proctor is very honest and just wants to get on with his life. The audience will have an affinity with Proctor.
Conflicts between characters – Abigail and Elizabeth both love Proctor, Proctor and Parris: Parris isn’t godly and is a hypocrite etc. these conflicts are like smaller plots in their own way and add to the audience’s excitement, also annoying us when they don’t resolve, theocracy religion says the you cant, but they want to. The structure is broken up with the overture and prose which the actors interpret and use the instructions to show it to the audience.
This adds an extra dimension to the play, incorporating the prose, with its history and explanations. Intertextualism, the themes that link Salem and McCarthyism, spark questions – it is years since the Salem trials but we still haven’t learnt, human character prevails. The questions – dramatic devices that go unanswered, especially at the end with Proctor being hung, should he have been? He doesn’t want to go back to the same society that tried to hang him – a dramatic device, people are ready to persecute when that is what they are trying to escape – irony. The irony, people went to America to escape and be free, supposed to have got better – satiring the American Dream. These themes mean more to a 1950’s audience, with the exact same one present.