The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Crucible is Arthur Miller’s most impressive play with its subject and theme raising continuous fascination and interest throughout the world. It tells the story of the Salem witch trials of 1692, centering the attention on the effect these trials had on the Proctor family, as well as making an analogous critical commentary on the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the 1950s. Miller initially did not aimed at depicting the HUAC hearings in the form of an old-fashioned witch trial.
However, as the HUAC hearings grew more ritualistic, and more pointless, he could no longer resist. The play contains a lot of notes detailing the historical background of Salem society in the 1690s, and detailed facts regarding the actual lives of the main characters involved. Miller wanted to show that he had not made up these events, but that people really allowed such things to occur. These notes illustrate the extensive research which Miller undertook to write The Crucible.
There are many details in the play which are firmly backed up by trial transcripts and other records of the time. However there are also notable details which arose from Miller’s imagination, like the presentation of Abigail and her lust for Proctor. The Crucible depicts how unscrupulous people, from the Putnams to the trial judges, declare the presence of evil and the Devil to harm whoever disagrees with them, not just religiously, but politically and socially. Such people assume a moral high position, and anyone who disagrees with them is deemed immoral and damned.
Tituba and the children were certainly trying to commune with dark forces, but if left alone, their exploits would have bothered no one–their actions are an indication of the way people react against repression rather than anything truly evil. But Miller does view evil as being at large in the world, and he believes that anyone, even the apparently virtuous, has the potential to be evil given the right circumstances, even though most people would not admit this. Miller offers Proctor as proof: a good man, but one who carries with him the guilt of adultery.
But men like Danforth also fit this category, because they do evil deeds under the pretence of being right. In The Crucible, Miller centers this study on John Proctor, a man with an initially split personality, caught between the way in which others see him and the way he sees himself. His private sense of guilt leads him into an ironically false confession of having committed a public crime, although he later recants. What allows him to recant is the release of guilt given to him by his wife’s confession of her coldness and inability to blame him for his adultery.
Elizabeth insists that he is a good man, and this finally convinces him that he is. In The Crucible, Miller explores what happens when people allow others to be the judge of their conscience. Total freedom, Miller suggests, is largely a myth in any working society. Miller created his own poetic language for this play, based on the archaic language from the Salem documents. Wanting to make his audience feel they were witnessing events from an earlier time, yet not wanting to make his dialogue incomprehensible, he invents a form of speech for his characters which blended into everyday speech, an earlier vocabulary and syntax.
Incorporating more familiar archaic words like “yea,” “nay,” or “goodly,” Miller creates the impression of a past era without overly perplexing his audience. Words like “poppet” instead of “doll,” are easily understood, just as the way he has the women addressed as “Goody” instead of “Mrs. ” Miller alters various verb conjugations and tenses to conform more readily with those of the period, substituting “he have” for “he has,” or “be” for “are” and “am,” to give his audience just the flavor of seventeenth-century English.
Speaking about the images in The Crucible, blood is a dominant image of the play, in the idea of it being equated with sexual passion, and in its association with murder. The images are initially associated with Abigail. Her heated blood leads her into a sexual liaison with Proctor, and she drinks blood to cast a spell on his wife. But the blood is transferred to the hands of the supposedly righteous judges who begin to hang innocent people.
By employing historical texts, Miller attempts to project his own experience and personal beliefs without violating the truth of the historical matter he surveyed. In Miller’s hands the historical play becomes a vehicle for modern tragedy in The Crucible, carefully sustaining the atmosphere of the historical period but also projecting onto it the political realities of a dark age of modern American history. Works Cited Page Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts. With an introduction by Christopher Bigsby. New York: Penguin, 1995