The Crucible Revision
Context • 1692 Salem, Massachusetts • Strange sickness and hallucinations of some girls lead to accusations within the village • Nineteen people and two dogs hanged for witchcraft
Play written during early years of Cold War between America and Russia (first performance in 1953) • Senator Joseph McCarthy tried to root out Communist sympathisers • Suspected Communists were encouraged to confess and to identify other Red sympathizers as means of escaping punishment. • As people began to realize that they might be condemned as Communists regardless of their innocence, many “cooperated,” attempting to save themselves through false confessions, creating the image that the United States was overrun with Communists and perpetuating the hysteria.
In 1957, Miller appeared before the House of Un-American Activities Committee • He refused to tell them he names of alleged Communist writers with whom he attended five or six meetings in New York in 1947. • You can read more about this here: • http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/7/newsid_2946000/2946420.stm
Structure • Exposition- First act- girls practising witch craft in forest, initial rumours of witchcraft, building up to first accusations • Development- The witch hunts, where several women are tried and hung • Climax- The courtroom scene, particularly John’s confession to adultery and him being accused of witchcraft. • Denouement- John’s tearing up of his false confession
Themes/ Central Concerns • The danger of ideology • The damaging power of fear and hysteria • The conflict between truth and lies • The importance of individual conscience • The struggle of the individual in a repressive society
Activity • Choose two themes and add two appropriate quotations for each to your mind-map.
The Danger of Ideology • An ideology is a rigid set of beliefs that defines what an individual or community thinks. • In the Puritan theocracy of Massachusetts, the dominant ideology held that the Puritans were a chosen people that the devil would do anything to destroy. • Since religious men ran their government, the Puritans considered all government actions to be necessarily “good,” or sanctioned by Heaven.
Any attempt to question the government/ court’s actions was perceived as an attempt to overthrow God • Such government easily fall into corruption and tyranny • Deputy Governor Danforth and Judge Hathorne believe that they’re emissaries of God, and therefore that everything they believe must be true and everything they do must be right. • Characters like Abigail recognize the court’s narrow-minded worldview and manipulate it to their own selfish advantage
The Damaging Power of Fear and Hysteria • Fear is used as a weapon in the play • This overwhelms logic and leads to the hysteria of the witch trials • In The Crucible, hysterical fear becomes a means of expressing the resentment and anger suppressed by strict Puritan society • The Crucible shows how religious fervour fuels hysteria and leads to conditions that sacrifice justice and reason.
The Conflict Between Truth and Lies • Salem’s Theocracy creates a climate where freedom of speech and truth are suppressed • Abigail’s lies drive the tragedy • Many characters lie to save their lives • Elizabeth lies to save John, but in doing so condemns him • John reveals the truth of the trials- they are motivated by vengance
The Importance of Individual Conscience • John’s heroic act is to choose to die rather than save his life by confessing to witchcraft • Here, and when he challenges the court, he is motivated by what he knows to be right, rather than reputation or self-interest. • Miller highlights how difficult it is to act according to our own conscience in repressive societies. He also highlights how doing so is the ultimate challenge to such societies.
Setting in Place • Salem, Massachusetts • Repressive, theocratic society- governed by the church on God’s authority. • This repressive society and the hysteria of the witch trials acts as a metaphor for the anti-Communist hysteria of 1950s America • It also raises universal themes, such as the conflict between the individual and society.
John Proctor • Tragic hero- good man with one fatal flaw • Suffers internal and external conflicts • Adultery puts him at odds with values of his society and starts the events which lead to the witch trials • It also damages his view of himself- leading him to believe ‘I am no good man’. • Guilt over this delays him from revealing the truth about the witch trials until it is too late.
When it is revealed that Elizabeth is pregnant, passes up the opportunity to drop his challenge to the court. • At this point he is more motivated by justice than reputation (start of his redemption) • His view of himself has been so damaged that he is willing to confess to witchcraft in order to save his life • By tearing up his confession, John becomes a martyr: he gives his own life to end the witch trails and break the power of the theocracy
Abigail • The antagonist (the baddy!) • Vengeful, selfish, manipulative, and a magnificent liar. • Uses her awareness of the hypocrisy and lies of Salem society to manipulate it • She actually encouraged Tituba to cast spells, but is then the ringleader in accusing others
She riles up the entire village’s hatred of witches, just like Sen. Joseph McCarthy, riled up Americans’ hatred of communists. • Frames Elizabeth for witchcraft • Also damns John, whom she claims to love • Never displays any remorse
In Defence of Abigail • "I saw Indians smash my dear parents' head on the pillow next to mine" (I.119). • As an unmarried, female orphan, she is close to the bottom of the social hierarchy in patriarchal Salem society. • Through the accusations, she acquires power that would otherwise be denied to her. • John’s mistreatment of her
Elizabeth Proctor • Depicted as a ‘cold’ wife • Has not fully forgiven john for his adultery • Lies in an attempt to defend John- with disastrous consequences • Refuses to insist that John lies to save his life- is aware that it must be his decision.
Reverend Hale • In the early going, he is the force behind the witch trials, probing for confessions and encouraging people to testify. • Experiences a transformation over the course of the play • Belief in witch craft and the law falters • Encourages the accused to confess in order to save their lives.