The Crucible The playwright, Arthur Miller, uses the character construction in the play to position the audience to accept the dominant reading of the play, which is the concern and dangers of religious fanaticism. The play, The Crucible, is set in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. It is based upon the actual events which led to the ‘Salem witch trials’, a series of hearings to determine which individuals were in fact practicing witchcraft.
The play also conveys parallels to the McCarthyist era, during which the playwright was questioned as he had attended Communist meetings, and modern day anti-terror laws, which prevent people of certain backgrounds and cultures to enter countries, as they are immediately sent to prisons, based on appearance and other individuals opinions, that are certainly not based upon facts. The audience is positioned to relate to the concepts in the play, as well as sympathising with characters. Miller does this as it is a way of getting his message to the audience.
The dominant reading of the play is religious fanaticism; this is displayed as the town of Salem is ruled by a theocracy. However, the perfect town is hardly that, filled with corruption, betrayal and a never-ending blame game, which evidently causes masses of people to be tried in court resulting in many of them being hung. This concept of doing anything to achieve what you want draws parallels to a number of occurrences. They are, the real Salem witch trials upon which the story is based upon, the McCarthyist era and the modern day anti-terror laws although not directly addressed, the likeness is overwhelming.
The anti-terror laws allow, mostly, innocent individuals to be held in prisons around the world simply because they look a certain way or are of a certain race. The comparison drawn is that one does not need evidence, merely a person’s word, true or false. Miller displays certain parallels and concepts to show that religious fanaticism is not always guaranteed a peaceful society, in fact it ensues the opposite. The hero in the play is John Proctor; he is a good man who has unfortunately made one regretful decision, consorting with his previous housemaid, Abigail Williams.
Proctors’ wife, Elizabeth, questions his motives and whereabouts, sometimes leaving Proctor feeling undeserving as he has told Williams to leave him alone since the event. He is the hero of the play as he, unlike many other characters, does not feel pressure to succumb to the unreasonable accusations of witchcraft. When Elizabeth Proctor, John Proctor’s wife, is about to be taken away for witchcraft Proctor is portrayed as caring and selfless, as shown in this quote by John Proctor, “We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!
This warrant’s vengeance! I’ll not give my wife to vengeance! ” (p72). Elizabeth replies, “I’ll go John. ” (p72) John responds with a quite precise answer, “You will not go! ” (p72) This quote shows that Proctor, no matter what unjust decisions he has made in the past are nothing compared to the passion he feels for his wife, and that he would do anything for her. Furthermore, it allows the audience to see that one person does know what is happening, that most citizens of Salem have succumbed to the childish antics of teenage girls.
At the end of Act IV, Proctor is asked to sign a piece of paper confessing that he had consulted with the devil, and that he was practising witchcraft, this quote displays his courage, “I have confessed myself! Is there no good penitence but it be public? God does not need my name nailed upon the church! God sees my name; God knows how black my sins are! It is enough! ” (p123 – p124) This shows that Proctor is willing to save his family by confessing his sins, furthermore he does not want his family to be shunned by Salem.
This positions the audience to sympathise with Proctor allowing the audience to like him, and view him as Miller had intended, a hero. Proctor also helps Miller to display the dangers of religious fanaticism, and what can become of a society if theology is so profusely followed; that is, a corrupt and spiteful community, where each individual has their own wellbeing, before they begin to think of any one else. Abigail Williams is a licentious individual who will stop at nothing to secure her previous paramour, John Proctor.
She believes that the previous sexual encounter between her and Proctor means he still and always will, love her. Williams is portrayed as the enemy in the play, no doubt that she is more conniving than any other character, as shown in Act I, when she threatens the other girls involved in the so called ‘witchcraft’, she states, “And mark this. Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you.
And you know I can do it…” (p26) This quote clearly shows what Williams is capable of, and that she wants the other girls to know that she will do what is necessary for her to achieve her goal of retaining Proctor. Williams also conveys how deceptive she truly is when talking to her uncle, Parris, about why she was fired by Elizabeth Proctor, from the Proctors’ service in this quote, “She hates me, uncle, she must, for I would not be her slave. It’s a bitter woman, a lying, cold, snivelling woman, and I will not work for such a woman! (p20) This clearly shows that she does not care who she hurts or whose reputation she blackens, as long as her name is good it does not matter. Miller uses Williams to show that religious fanaticism does not always ensure a civilised humanity. Thomas Putnam is a greedy man who, like Williams, does what is in his power to retrieve, what he believes, is rightfully his. In this case it is supposed, by Giles Corey, that Putnam compelled his daughter, Ruth, to accuse many people in Salem, including George Jacobs, Giles Corey and Goody Osbourn.
Goody Osbourn was the Putnam’s midwife many times, and they believe she killed their children, also George Jacob’s was an innocent man accused by Ruth Putnam of sending his spirit to her at night. Giles Corey correctly identified Thomas Putnam for wrongfully accusing persons of witchcraft in order to gain their many acres surrounding his already significant property. The following quote in Act I is stated by Putnam to Parris, “When Reverend Hale comes, you will proceed to look for signs of witchcraft here. ” (p23).
This quote shows that Putnam wants the witch-hunt to progress; progression of this will grant Putnam time to declare more of his rivals, in return he will receive their land. The character analysis of Putnam shows that he is also spiteful and like Williams, his own well-being and desires are all that concern him, displaying the disconcerting corruption in the ‘perfect’ society that is Salem. In conclusion, Arthur Miller does in fact use the character construction in the play to position the audience to accept the dominant reading of the play, which is, the dangers of religious fanaticism.
Miller does this by depicting the characters in a certain way, such as John Proctor who is portrayed as a hero for he would rather die to keep his name, than live a lie and be shunned by society. It also conveys that the dominant reading, of dangers of religious fanaticism, does not always entail a perfect life. Thus, Arthur Miller succeeded in what he set out to do which was, create a play that is not only successful but conveyed an idea of great importance, that is to display the parallels between the 1692 Salem witch trials and the McCarthyist era, and how easily it is for corruption to surface and become everyday life.
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