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How does Miller use setting and action in Set 1of ‘the Crucible’ to establish atmosphere and set the scene for the events which are to unfold? This essay recounts the various ways in which Arthur Miller uses setting and action to set the atmosphere for the coming events in ‘the Crucible’. During the 1950’s whilst ‘the Crucible’ was being written a phenomenon called McCarthyism was occurring. McCarthy, who was the US president at the time, was determined to hunt down communists in the USA. He was paranoid about Communists and McCarthyism is the name given to the paranoid behaviour of his government in the hunt for communists. Miller was called in front of the judge and was tried, as were a number of his friends, but Miller was not convicted although others were. This is where Miller’s idea for ‘the Crucible’ originated.
The link between McCarthyism and the witch-hunt is persecution, which is a common parallel in both situations. Being based on a true story about a historical witch-hunt creates dramatic tension in that the audience are expecting a play based on fact rather than fiction. The audience at the time would have known that the play was about McCarthyism, and by claiming that the play was based on fact Miller creates excitement in the audience who are prepared for a factual account of McCarthyism. It is notable that Miller was unable to perform his play publicly in the US at the time and it had to be performed in Belgium. By using the Salem witch-hunts Miller introduces the audience to the theme of good and evil. The setting and actions in Set 1 establishes atmosphere in particular for the events that are to unfold in the rest of the play.
Set 1 in Act 1 is a small, simple bedroom. Within the room there isn’t much furniture and the room appears to be very cold and inhospitable. The room is brightened up by the description of the morning sunlight streaming in through the window, but the window is described as narrow so dulling the image of the room and limiting the sunlight streaming in through the window. The audience then has an image of a small slit of light entering a room of darkness, which creates a visual drama between light and dark. Similarly, the set in Act 2 is described by Miller as ‘the low, dark and rather long living room of the time.’
Again the Set which is a room in Act 3 is described as ‘solemn, even forbidding. Heavy beams jut out, boards of random widths make up the walls.’ As in set 1 there are two ‘high’ windows with ‘sunlight pouring through’. Finally in set 4 Miller describes the prison cell as ‘in darkness but for the moonlight seeping through the bars.’ The set of act 1 indicates a similar parallel in the set of the scene of John Procter in a prison cell, with the light streaming through. Whilst the audience contemplates whether there is hope of Proctor not being accused of dealing in witchcraft, sunlight streams in to the courtroom from the high windows.
This represents a glimmer of hope for John Procter. Proctor’s wife then lies to say that her husband is not a lecher, thinking that she is protecting him, and the audience sees all hope dashed away. Later in Set 4 in the prison cell Miller uses the metaphor of moonlight seeping through the bars to show that not all is lost in despair. In all these sets Miller uses the stylistic device of light coming through windows in dark rooms making the audience think that the whole story will be dark with small glimmers of hope throughout. The use of light and dark in the set draws on a parallel of good and evil, hope and despair, justice and injustice. By allowing darkness rather light to dominate so despair, injustice and evil form the dominant atmosphere. The changing atmosphere in the similar settings leaves the audience un-prepared for what is going to take place next.
Set 1, as can be seen by examining the text further, the bedroom is always full of tension and it is never the set for anything calm. Bedrooms are normally where people go to relax and sleep but this bedroom is the place where people go to argue and accuse each other of waywardness. This particular bedroom doesn’t belong to anyone and is described as ‘A small upper bedroom’. Bedrooms are normally personalised and made comfortable for the persons whose room it is but this one is cold and bland. This at once tells the audience that this room will be the centre for grievances and dilemma.
The first character the audience meets in Act 1 is Reverend Samuel Parris, who is described as in his middle forties. The audience instantaneously get the impression that Parris is a man easily angered as his first words spoken are “Out of here!” Here Miller adds the action of Parris “scrambling to his feet in a fury”, which immediately creates tension. Reverend Parris’ short temper and his desperate manner, which he uses to get what he wants, are seen here. His intense anger comes through again when he is arguing with John Proctor “Man! Don’t a minister deserve a house….”. Parris’s greed shines through and the audience sees a man out to get what he wants and not what’s best for the Church, which he is meant to serve. The audience also see his pretentiousness “I am a graduate of Harvard College”.
He seems to believe that he is superior to everyone else. The confrontation in set 1 Act 1 set the scene for what is to be a far more serious conflict between Parris and Procter in the courtroom. At this point a different atmosphere is created by the tension. Here again there is an argument between Parris and Procter, but roles are reversed, and Proctor seems to be in control. The tension is also amplified by the way in which Parris speaks “in deadly fear, to Elizabeth”. Deadly fear is strong language and emphasises to the audience that death is in the air. Set 1 Act 1 also prepares the audience for Act 4 Parris is seen out of character where he is grovelling and begging for Procter to confess to dealing with witchcraft, demonstrating the extent to which Parris will go to get a confession, which the audience knows is false.