The play “The Crucible” tells the story of the 1692 Salem witch trials and the fates of the key figures caught up in the persecution. John Proctor is one of the lead characters and he is an outspoken and successful farmer. In the village he is respected and even feared with a quiet confidence and “unexpressed hidden force”. However, Proctor’s character has a flaw and this leads him to commit adultery and live life as a fraud. He is a man consumed by guilt whose love for his wife gives him the strength to finally admit his sin.
It is because of this that he can be perceived in two ways; one as a sinner and the other as a good man. It is clear that Arthur Miller wants the audience to see the better of the two personalities and to like John Proctor despite his mistake. This links to the title of the play and how it can be seen as a metaphor.
A crucible is a pot in which metal is heated to very high temperatures. The metal then melts and any impurities can be removed.
The high temperatures mirror the intense conflict and pressure within the play and the cleansing of impurities not only symbolises impurities in characters but also in Salem as a whole. The author of the play, Arthur Miller saw many parallels between the witch trials and events in his own time. In the late 1930s there existed an organisation called The House of Un-American Activities Committee.
This committee investigated people accused of doing anything that was perceived as un-American, especially those thought to have communist links.
Communism was seen as a threat to capitalist America and in 1956 Miller was charged. The investigation and persecution of innocent people in 1940s-1950s America is much like the persecutions of witches in 1600s America and ‘The Crucible’. In Act one Proctor is presented in the commentary as “a kind of man-powerful of body even-tempered and not easily led” but also “a sinner against the moral fashion of the time”. Proctor’s power is displayed with the quite cruel way he speaks to Mary Warren leaving her, “both afraid of him and strangely titillated”.
He says, “I’ll show you great doin’ on your arse one of these days. Now get you home”. The speech is threatening and aggressive and brings out Proctor’s darker, more controlling side. In contrast, when Proctor first starts speaking to Abigail he is relaxed and his body language warms to her with, “the faintest suggestion of a smile on his face” and then later, with “his smile widening” he playfully teases her by saying “Ah, you’re wicked yet, aren’t y’!
” This highlights Proctor’s weakness of physical attraction towards Abigail and gives us as the audience the only insight we will get into their affair. It is apparent that at some point Proctor had feelings for her even if he does not any more. Having said that however, Proctor is definitely not encouraging Abigail as he tells her to “Put it out of mind, Abby”. Miller having him say this is showing that he doesn’t want any further relations to continue and that he regrets what he did and wishes that she would stop pressuring him.
By “gently pressing her from him, with great sympathy” it shows that he feels sorry for her and doesn’t appear to blame her for what happened but solely himself. I think that this action shows how well he has handled the situation (better than words could) and he therefore gains the audience respect. He is not angry at her for what happened and does not act defensively or aggressively to her upfront body language towards him. Although he has been calm and kind to her I do not think that Miller intends the audience to believe that he is still in love with her.
When Abigail mentions Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, we can see where his true affection lies. He says “You’ll speak nothin’ of Elizabeth! ” , which proves just how much he loves her and by also saying “I will cut off my hand before I reach for you again” Miller shows how disgusted he is with himself for his sin. By making this scene with Abigail and John Proctor so varied in emotion, Miller has ensured that the audience know Proctor is a good man. He displays real remorse for his sin which allows his character to be very easy for an audience to relate to.