The Cruciable by Arthur Miller Essay
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The crucible is a play set in the town of Salem in 1692, in was written by Arthur Miller who saw similarities between the Salem witch hunts and the McCarthyism which gripped America in the 1950’s. Both showed how hysteria, paranoia and malice could be the driving force for evil persecution and also the true power of false accusation.
Arthur Miller throughout the play tries to create many themes and messages. I believe that this was done to make people think about what was happening in America at the time.
The first theme is the idea of self interest and reputation. These two themes feature heavily throughout the play. Salem is a Christian society where not going to church is looked down upon and where all the villagers believe the Good News and that you should love thy neighbour.
Yet underneath their niceties they seek to attack each other. Giles Corey did state several times that he has been to court over allegations of missing cows and other such accusations. Giles himself talks to Danforth about a case Danforth father tried “Y’see, I had a white mare that time, and this fellow come to borrow the mare.” The case that Corey talks about happened thirty-five years ago which shows that there had been a hatred brewing in the town for some time.
Giles also continues to go on about how Thomas Putnam constantly goes after his neighbours land. Proctor and Putnam have a small debate over whether Proctor timber belongs to him. “Putnam: What lumber is that you’re draggin’, if I may ask you? Proctor: My lumber. From out by my forest, by the riverside. Putnam: Why, we are surely gone wild this year. What anarchy is this? That tract is in my bounds, it’s in my bounds, Mr Proctor.” This quote clearly shows that Putnam is in constant confrontation with his neighbours overland. Giles believes Putnam tells his daughter to cry witchery on George Jacobs (an elderly Jewish man) so that he could buy the land that by law George Jacobs had to forfeit.
These undercurrents through the Salem community raise question with the audience. Such as will Putnam get away with? Who may be accused next? They build up tension leading to the court room scene (act three) it in these events that creates drama and tension by making the audience ask question about the climax and ending.
At the end of act two there is an argument, this argument is the catalyst for the events of act three. It starts when Elizabeth Proctor (John’s wife) is taken away due to allegations made by Abigail Williams. John then says to his maid Mary Warren that he will not let his wife die for him. She replies, “I cannot, and they’ll turn on me.” John Proctor replies exclaiming “All our pretences are ripped away… we are only what we always were, but naked now.”
This is a powerful statement and leads back to what I was mentioned earlier. John is simply saying that hidden underneath their Christian guise they were all out to get each other, everyone was trying to get land and destroy families. Earlier in the act John asserts that “We are what we always were in Salem.” The people are still the same, their evil thoughts and misdoings have always gone on but they were concealed to protect something of value; their reputation. John may also be talking about himself and his affair with Abigail, he knows what he did was wrong, but concealed it for the sake of his reputation. The people of Salem did not change overnight; they are now just seen through a different light.
The third act takes place in the vestry room of the Salem meeting house, which is now being used as the anteroom of the General court. A new character is introduced, Judge Danforth; a proud man who is to the point. At the opening of act three Giles Corey challenges Putnam’s motives for accusing his neighbours of witchcraft. The audience will remember that Giles Corey spoke to Hale (a witch doctor form Beverly) about his wife’s preoccupation with reading. He said “I tried and tried and could not say my prayers. And then she closes her book and walks out the house, and suddenly – mark this – I could pray again!”
Martha Corey (Giles’ wife) is now being charged due to allegations made by the group of girls of which Putnam’s daughter is one of. Giles believes that Putnam is telling his daughter to cry witchery on the people of Salem so that Putnam can buy their land once it is forfeited. These attacks at each other within the Salem community show a different side to the Puritan community. Puritans believe in the purity of worship and doctrine. This doctrine includes all of the Ten Commandments. Two of the commandments from the audience’s point of view have clearly been broken. 8) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. 10) You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbour. Clearly Putnam by telling his daughter to cry witchery for his personal gain is breaking his own beliefs.
When confronting Putnam, Giles said he had heard it from an honest man. “The day his daughter cried out on Jacobs, he said she’d (Putnam’s daughter) given him a fair gift of land.” Giles predicament comes when Judge Danforth asks Giles for the name of his man. Giles is then struck that the Judge should ask for the name, but Danforth persists. Giles doesn’t want to give the name because the last time he gave it was his wife’s and she may hang. The writer here tries to get the audience to attach themselves to Giles as he is a man of eighty just trying to get his wife back.
Giles even though he states that he has been thirty-three times in court in his life seems lost and confused under the authority of Danforth. The audience will feel sorry for him and give their sympathy. It is a clever technique to draw the audience in and engaging them. The viewer will want to know what happens to Giles and most especially Putnam who by now will have gained the audiences mistrust.
The other two men who accompany Giles to the court are John Proctor the main antagonist of the story and Francis Nurse. Both of these men have also had their wives detained due to allegations from the court and the girls. Francis Nurse’s wife was accused of being a witch due to the prompting by the Putnam’s. She is a highly respected Salem woman. Her helpful nature and willingness to make any sacrifice in the cause of truth makes her almost saintly in the eyes of the community. The audience will be surprised to see that she has been accused of witchcraft and will want to know her fate as well as the other women’s.
Francis in order to save his wife tells Judge Danforth “the girls, sir, the girls are frauds.” Danforth studies Francis and the audience will be hanging on the next word he says as it is his decision as to whether the girls will, in the end, get away with it. Danforth replies to Francis “Do you know who I am, Mr Nurse?” This question is important as it shows how important pride is to Danforth. If it becomes known that he was deceived by a group of young girls his judgement may in the future be questioned.
Arthur Miller then raises the tension is the scene may bringing in the character of Mary Warren, who is described as near collapsing to the ground, head bent and eyes to the floor. The viewer will be asking themselves what has she got to say and how will it affect the proceedings. Hale says to Danforth “I think you must hear the girl, sir, she-” but he gets cut off by Danforth and Danforth begins to question Mary. In the beginning she won’t speak, not helped by the frustration of John Proctor. The tension builds, but Mary keeps her mouth shut and so John answer for her that she never saw any spirits. The sentence ends with an exclamation mark. This is there for the actor to realise that he has to really emphasise this sentence as it is a pivotal point in the play. It is where people start to fight back, but nobody knows who will win.
Danforth tries to calculate his choices and eventually agrees to hear the girl out. She tells Danforth that it was all pretence, but Parris the parish priest won’t stand for it and so turns to Danforth and in a sweat spits “Excellency, you surely cannot think to spread so vile a lie in open court.” The audience will question why Parris know so for the hanging of the ‘witches’ yet before he was adamant that there were no witches in Salem.
Danforth then leaves Mary alone and begins to question Proctor, “Have you ever seen the Devil?” this interrogation is important as the audience knows that Proctor is a lecher but they also know Danforth doesn’t know this and so they will be eager to find out if this information comes to light. During the interview Danforth and Proctor start to argue with each other about the innocence of those condemned to hang. Danforth and Proctor are both strong minded individuals and this battle is a battle of wills Proctor won’t back down for the sake of getting back at Abigail (the girls he had an affair with).
Danforth then tells Proctor that his wife sent a claim to him that morning that she was pregnant. Proctor says that Elizabeth his wife will never lie, so she must be pregnant. Danforth then gives him a choice as his wife will be safe for a year due to her condition. Proctor carries on regardless trying to save the wives of his friends.
Hale then begins to plead with Danforth to hear this from a proper lawyer and that the claim was a weighty one and should be discussed properly. He states that he has signed away the lives of several people and that he wants to get to the heart of the matter. Hale disobedience raises question as to how the scene will go on and where Hale loyalties now lie. He is an honest man and does not want the blood of several people on his hands.
Danforth then brings in Abigail and the other girls. He questions Abigail as to the truth of the allegations, but she denies. The attention then turns back to Mary who is asked if she were pretending before could she please do it again. Mary tries and tries but is unable to faint. This is because in the courtroom the girls acted together and through hysteria fainted. But now Mary is on her own and is all flustered. Danforth says it is because there are no afflicting spirits loose. But Mary still denies it. Danforth then asks Abigail to search her heart and be honest but she lies without thinking. The audience will now be hooked due to the tension building between Mary, Danforth and Abigail. They want to know if he honestly believes her lies or not.
Abigail pretends to be freezing cold as soon as she is questioned to draw the attention away from the accusations put against her. She then calls to God to make it stop, “Oh, Heavenly Father, take away this shadow!” The exclamation at this point shows how much emphasise she is putting in to the performance, after all she is acting for her life.
When she calls heaven Proctor decides that he has had enough and calls her ‘a whore’ Danforth demands to know why he calls her this and Proctor admits that he has “known her, sir. I have known her.” Danforth shocked by this confession address Abigail with the evidence “You deny every scrap and tittle of this?” The language that Danforth uses shows his utter horror. He asks Abigail if she denies it all every last bit. It is like him giving her, her last chance to confess or else. More than anything it is a threat.
Danforth then calls for Goodwife Proctor, and reaffirms his belief with John that Elizabeth had never told a lie. Danforth tells both Abigail and John to turn away from Elizabeth and to not signal to her or say anything. He then tells Goody Proctor to enter. He begins to question her on the release of Abigail as there servant. He asks her “For what cause did you dismiss her?” and “In what way dissatisfied you?” He is trying to lure Elizabeth in to a trap. Until eventually he asks her straight out “Is your husband a lecher!” the language used here is very specific and important as if she says yes she is condemning her husband but if she says no then she is letting Abigail get away with it.
The audience will be anticipating her answer as they know that John has already confessed, but realise that she doesn’t know that. This is made even worse by the irony that earlier John said his wife would never lie and so to save her husband she must do the thing that she never does. The tension is high as this is the climax of the story will she or won’t she?
Elizabeth lies and states that Proctor is not a lecher. The audience will be in shock and will want to know what is going to happen to the characters now. Hale states to Danforth that is a natural lie and starts to attack Abigail with accusations, but she starts to pretend again. Saying she sees a bird that is Mary’s spirit sent to hurt them. The tension builds as Danforth continues to buy into their performance. Mary who is know so scared of the gallows due to Abigail and the other girl acting as if Mary were attacking them; starts to break down and declares that she “loves God” and that Proctor is the “Devil’s man!” The children who are all now hysterical after their sudden performance welcome Mary back in to their group, while the adults turn their attention to Proctor.
Danforth now feeling the full extent of his power again asks John “What are you?” John is beyond speech in his anger “You are combined with anti-Christ, are you not? I have seen your power; you will not deny it! What say you, Mister?” The audience will anticipate Proctor’s frustration. John soon replies, breathlessly “I say – I say – God is dead!” At this point the audience will know that Proctor has sealed his faint and that he has also committed blasphemy. The clever use of the exclamation mark shows to the extent at which Proctor is angry with the court. He has lost everything and is now utterly selfless.
Hale ends the scene with “I denounce these proceedings, I quit this court!” Hale quitting the court show to the extent at which he is embittered by the court. Danforth shouts after “Mr Hale! Mr Hale!” his wisdom now seems useless and this victory to Danforth now seems like a defeat. The audience will now be expectantly waiting for the consequences of the actions in scene three.