Arthur Miller’s play ‘The Crucible’ was based upon the 1950s McArthur trials. Miller was called before the House of Un-American Activities Committee in 1956 and refused to testify against his friends and associates (similar to the decision made by his main character and protagonist, John Proctor). He was then charged with contempt, but the conviction was later overruled with an appeal. The play explores the challenge in society to stand up for what you believe in and doing good in the face of evil.
Salem must have seemed a very strong basis of which to develop his play and ideas. Miller travelled to Salem and heavily researched the Puritan society existing in the 17th century.
In this essay I am going to explain how John Proctor goes through a journey of self discovery and makes the decision that his pride and principles are worth dying for, which is why Miller has written the play. In the first scene involving John Proctor, his sordid affair with Abigail Williams is exposed.
Although honest and a good man, John is very passionate – which lands him in a lot of trouble. After a lot of guilt and a heavy concience he decides to end the affair with Abby.
Once he is on his own with her, he declares, ‘Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I’ll ever reach for you again. Wipe it out of mind. We never touched, Abby.
’ This powerful use of imagery works to add meaning to what he is saying. This is obviously hard for a man of John’s nature to come to terms with – he knows he has let down his wife Elizabeth but is trying to redeem himself by ending any ties to this woman. It is this conflict which serves as one of the devices by which Miller takes his main character on a journey of self-discovery.
Miller has created a simple plot where Reverend Hale is invited to Salem after no cure can be found for Reverend Parris’s daughter, Betty, who after found dancing and singing in the forest with other girls in the village, had developed a strange ‘illness’. In a Puritan society such as Salem at that time, singing and dancing were strictly prohibited. The inhabitants of Salem begin to think Betty is possessed.
After Hale’s arrival, the girls involved are questioned. Abigail (the ringleader of the group) begins calling out names of respectable members of the society, claiming she has seen them with the Devil. Betty joins in. Sarah Good and Goody Osburn are the first citizens to be accused of witchcraft. Proctor know that Abigail can manipulate people and she that she’s feared by many of the girls. However, by ending the affair with Abigail earlier on in the play, it shows that John has great strength of character and has taken the first step to turn his life around and leads on to a journey of self discovery.
John tries to make amends with Elizabeth by exclaiming ‘On Sunday let you come with me and we’ll walk the farm together. I never see such a load of flowers on the earth.’ This clearly shows his love for his wife as well as his genuine remorse for his liaison with Abigail. This mirrors towards the ending because Proctor turns to Elizabeth, and asks her if he should confess; her opinion obviously means a lot to him and he’s asking her out of love. Referring back to the question, Proctor’s decision to die for his pride and principles are greatly affected by what Elizabeth told him to do. Elizabeth said that she could not judge him. Proctor’s principles and journey of self discovery are centered around his love for Elizabeth.
Elizabeth explains to John that many people have been arrested and accused of witchcraft and a court has been set up to try them with the penalty of death. Abigail accuses Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, of witchcraft. After Elizabeth is taken away, John tries to clear her good name. ‘I’ll not give my wife to vengeance.’ This quote shows John’s willingness to stand up for what he believes in, and his love for Elizabeth, because he believes his wife is good and pure and won’t hesitate to stand up for her. Elizabeth begs her husband to speak out and tell the court what kind of person Abigail really is. However it takes her arrest before he will do this. Proctor states ‘I had not reckoned with goin’ into court. But if I must I will.’