Arthur Miller’s ‘The crucible’ is a play that shows the extremes of human behaviour both good and bad. In this essay I will be discussing these extremes and also hope the essay will help me conclude whether the best or the worst of human behaviour is presented more strongly. I will also aim to link these themes to events, which would have affected the author at the time the play written. I will give examples of each type of behaviour and conclude.
I will start by explaining about the background of ‘the crucible’. Arthur Miller wrote it in 1950’s America but it is set in Salem 1692. Salem was a puritan community that because of the time had very little scientific knowledge so blamed any unexplained happenings on witchcraft. If someone was accused of witchcraft and confessed they were saved from being hanged but if they denied the charges then they were almost definitely hanged. This is how the witch-hunt began, people would be accused and they would confess and blame others and in turn the others accused would accuse someone else. Miller’s reasons for writing this play were mainly because the events’ happening in the 1950’s America. At this time in America a modern day ‘witch hunt’ was taking place. But instead of witches they were hunting communists.
Communism is a political theory that states that everyone in society is equally wealthy. Russia had already had a communist revolution and communism had spread to China also. This was the cause of much conflict in Vietnam in which America was heavily involved. The American government was afraid that communism would spread to America and the people would overthrow the government. Also communism clashes with the right wing policies of the American government.
Senator Joseph McCarthy was a main figure in this and so this was called McCarthyism. They tackled the threat of communism by passing laws to restrict the actions of communist supporters. Arthur Miller himself was accused of being a communist and like many others would have been questioned about his friends, family and political beliefs and also asked to name others involved. In response to this Arthur Miller wrote ‘the crucible’ to try and show how the hysteria in the 1950’s was similar to the hysteria in Salem 1692.
The worst of the behaviour in ‘The crucible’ is shown mainly in the character Abigail Williams. Abigail is from the very beginning a central character in the play and uses most of her time in the play to seek revenge on one woman, Elizabeth Proctor. She manipulates the court and the other girls into helping her with her plan under the pretence of doing God’s work. It is clear from the very beginning of the play that Abigail bears a grudge against Elizabeth from the language used. Cold imagery is used when Abigail describes Elizabeth; “It’s a bitter woman, a lying, cold, snivelling woman…”(act1). The reason for this is because John Proctor, Elizabeth’s husband had an affair with Abigail and Elizabeth subsequently sacked Abigail.
Abigail is still in love with John and hopes that if Elizabeth is hanged then John will want her back. Miller helps us understand the passion of the love Abigail feels for John by the hot imagery used; “I have a sense for heat, John…and I have seen you looking up, burning in your loneliness”(act 1). Abigail realising her power over the court goes about accusing anybody she can think of. There are a few people however who doubt her however Elizabeth, John and reverend Hale but none of them can stop her.
She carries on accusing people up until the end of act three where John Proctor confesses to the court that he had an affair with Abigail and calls her many names “whore” and “Harlot”. Abigail then realises that John does not love her and she steals all of her uncle’s money and runs away with Mercy Lewis another of the girls. Abigail is a character who is selfish and manipulating and one who shows no compassion to those who she falsely accuses. I think this character was not one that the audience would ever feel sorry for because of the way she is portrayed by Miller. I myself felt angry at the character and I think this was because she shows no remorse and even while other characters see the error of their ways and try and put things right she never even attempts to clear her conscience.
Another Character who displays one of the worst examples of behaviour is Reverend Parris who is Abigail’s uncle. Although he does not cause as much trouble as his niece he is a character that is portrayed by Miller as a self-absorbed and selfish. This is portrayed in many ways; one of them is in Act 1 when although he is upset about his daughter he still has time to question Abigail about their actions in the woods.
This may have at first seemed like concern for his child (Betty) but then miller slowly brings the audience to realise that he is only worried that his reputation may be damaged a quote which shows this is “But if you trafficked with spirits in the forest I must know it now, for surely me enemies will, and they will ruin me with it”(act 1). Another is that he is extremely vain and thinks that he deserves the deeds to the house set aside for the minister and although he now owns the house he still talks of more money he needs. John Proctor says something that really sums up Parris’ vanity
“Since we built the church there were pewter candlesticks upon the altar… But Parris came, and for twenty week he preach nothin’ but golden candlesticks until he had them”(act 2) which shows even though he preaches the puritan way of life he wants the luxuries no-one else is allowed. Even at the end of the play when most of the characters are trying to help John Proctor the only thing Parris is worried about is himself and that there will be a rebellion against the church if Proctor is hanged. Parris’ pathetic character is shown most prominently at the end mainly in the stage directions which show him sobbing because he has no money and is once again concerned for himself when he starts talking about how much danger he is in “You cannot hang this sort. There is danger for me. I dare not step outside at night!”