The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller in 1952. It was set in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and tells us of the Puritan community. Puritans were extremely religious and felt it very important that their children learned to read the bible as soon as possible. To be judged a good person, you had to know your commandments and have a good knowledge of the bible and respect it. All the communities’ laws and teachings were based around the bible. The atmosphere in Salem is described in the book as ‘acrimonious and joyless and was threatened by imaginary devils and the Indians’.
The inhabitants of Salem had to work very hard for their money and the community’s laws did not permit them to have fun. Even reading a novel was described as having fun and so novels, along with many other things, were banned, they were also obsessed with sin and damnation. As Salem had a theocratic society peoples sins were a matter of public concern. So prying into other’s lives to expose their sins was encouraged; this is why Abigail was praised for speaking out. The title, ‘The Crucible’ is interesting because a crucible is a container used to heat metals at a high temperature.
The main reason for this is to remove impurities from substances. This is used as a continuous metaphor throughout the book. Some of the characters attempt to rid themselves of their impurities by undertaking heroic and brave decisions and actions. John Proctor refuses to name others who trafficked with the devil in Act 4: ‘They think to go like saints. I like not to spoil their names. ‘ This also emphasizes my point of the importance of a person reputation in the community. Giles Cory also refuses to give the name of the person who signed the deposition against Thomas Putnam and is killed for contempt.
This is told to us by Elizabeth Proctor in Act 4: ‘He were not hanged. He would not answer aye or nay to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they’d hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law… ‘ We are told how he died the next time she speaks: ‘They press him John. ‘ Also the community, especially the judges, thought that the hanging of the ‘witches’ was preserving the towns purity. The time the book was written, 1952, it was the time of the McCarthy Anti-Communist trials.
These trials are the main reason that Miller decided to write the play as he felt that what was happening now was exactly the same as the events which took place in Salem in 1692. Miller himself describes the McCarthy trials as ‘a modern parallel. ‘ He says that McCarthy had been ‘ruthlessly determined’ to hunt out communists as the judges of Salem had been in 1692. During the trials, McCarthy, like the Salem judges, asked the people who confessed to bring others down with them. If the named nobody then they would be punished for contempt.
This is like the Salem witch trials. Miller himself was called up and underwent a long interrogation three years after the book was written. Miler told them that he had attended a meeting of communist writers nine years previous yet when asked to give the names of those also present, Miller acted as John Proctor did some three hundred years earlier and refused to give the names of others. Arthur Miller did not just write The Crucible for its historical aspect but he used it to inform the public of the events in America. The Essay.
One of the first themes of The Crucible is intolerance. People who did not follow the community’s laws or went against what was normal were seen to be a threat to the public and against their religion. The community’s beliefs stated that everyone belonged to God or the Devil. (‘There be no road between’). Anybody who had a conflicting opinion were said to be with the Devil. Intolerance did seem to affect the judge’s arbitration of the trials. Miller makes this apparent in Act 3, when Danforth says “A person is either with this court or he must be counted against it”.
This shows a distinct intolerance to people who had different opinions and if they did so then they were against God. The overlapping of speech and interruptions are the dramatic devices which really bring out a character’s intolerance. Parris continually interrupts and we are shown that Danforth is intolerant, if not impatient, by the way he interrupts Parris and orders him to be silent. In Act 3: (In his first real outburst, in which his contempt for Parris is clear) ‘Mr Parris I bid you be silent! …
‘ I think that this is a good move by Danforth because the way the book is written, people automatically dislike Parris and so by doing this Danforth earns a bit of respect for himself and shows the audience and the rest of the characters that he is still in charge of proceedings. Despite this, Miller tells us that he is not sure whether he made Danforth evil enough. Another example of intolerance is when Proctor grabs hold of Mary Warren in a bid to urge her to say what she knows, or at least what he has told her to say.
This physical contact is another dramatic device that Miller uses in order to portray a characters feelings and in this case Proctor’s urgency and desperation. This action could also have been put in to show Proctor’s more aggressive side which Mary Warren informs Danforth does not exist. Another theme of the book is hysteria. This theme is probably the most important and prominent one. The trials only continue because people choose to believe what they are hearing about people despite the fact they may have known them all their lives.
‘In The Crucible the hysteria escalates because people choose to accept the accusations of others, not just out of religious belief but out of revenge. ‘ (Sparknotes. com) A good example of this is Abigail Williams who uses the hysterical situation to accuse Elizabeth Proctor to try and have John Proctor to herself. She was sacked from her job as a servant to the Proctors because she committed adultery with John Proctor and Abigail wants him back. She seems extremely desperate to get him back and I think that she would go to any lengths in order to get what she wanted.
Unfortunately for Abigail, Proctor refused to let her have her way and eventually died knowing he had purified himself. Mr. Parris also uses the situation to his advantage by managing to join the court and tries to get the condemned hung so that he can claim their land. He ends up a part of the court and uses his newly found status to attempt to alter Danforth’s mental ‘path’ or in other words he attempted to make Danforth think as he did. Thomas Putnam also uses the hysteria to his advantage.