1. The Author and His Times
Arthur Miller was born in 1915 in New York City. He grew
up to a Jewish family. He studied and graduated from the University
of Michigan in 1939 where he began to distinguish himself as a playwright.
For a few years, he wrote radio scripts. All My Songs (1947) was
his first successful play.
He has written many plays including Death of a Salesman (1949) which won the Pulitzer prize in 1949, and The Crucible (1953). He has also written two novels: Focus (1945), and The Misfits.
Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953 during the McCarthy period when Americans were accusing each other of Pro-Communist beliefs. Many of Miller’s friends were being attacked as communists, and in 1956, Miller himself was brought before the House of Un-American Activities Committee where he was found guilty of beliefs in Communism. The verdict was reversed in 1957 in an appeals court. Miller married Marylin Monroe in 1956 but divorced her in 1961.
2. Point of View
The Crucible is told from a third person objective point of view. The characters do not address the audience in the first person. Arthur Miller shows the audience the good and evil within people and bring out the mad hysterical qualities in a mob. He displays that even deeply religious people make mistakes in their lives. He does this through his characters who through their own imperfections and beliefs, bring the witch hunts to a complete chaos.
3. Form, Structure, and Plot
Miller structures The Crucible into four acts. There is
some off-stage action such as John Proctors affair.
The exposition occurs at the beginning of act one where the situation is introduce. The audience finds out that the girls have been practicing witchcraft in the forest with Tituba.
The initial incident is the actual accusing of the women of witchcraft by the several girls that were in the forest. This gets the plot rolling, and everything rolls downhill from their with the townspeople reaching a complete frenzy.
The rising action is the witch hunt itself. The audience learns in subsequent acts that several women are tried and hung.
The crisis/climax is the accusing of the Proctors of witchcraft. They try to get their servant to confess what she did in the forest with the other girls, but when they come into court, she turns her back on Proctor and returns to the side of the girls. The tension continues until the trial and the speeches made before the execution.
The falling action and the denouement is the actual execution where John Proctor upholds his innocence and goes to the gallows.
The main characters in this play such as the ministers and the proctors are well developed and three dimensional. Their personalities and reactions to their struggles in the play are believable and intricate. However, some of the minor characters, such as the girls who played in the forest, are less developed and static. Their actions do not always seem to go with the flow of things and different from how real people would have acted in similar situations.
Reverend Parris - Reverend Parris is in his middle forties. he is a widower and has a daughter named Betty who is ten years old. He is Abigail Williams’ uncle. Parris is a round character. His function in the play is to bring out the hatred and frenzy in the townspeople. He does not have many real friends in the village. Parris is gullible, uncaring, and villainous. He cares more about his reputation than truth. He says, “They’ve come to overthrow the court, sir!” This shows his susceptibility to the lies of the girls and his fervor to get the accused executed.
John Proctor - John Proctor is a farmer. he is in his middle thirties. He has a wife and two sons. Proctor is the main character and very well developed during the course of the play. His function in the play is to be an example of a sinner who is able to accept and confess of his sin to do good. He, along with many others, refuse to confess to witchcraft when doing so would have saved his life. Because he doesn’t confess, he is executed. Proctor is kind, strong, and sharp. He says, “Let them that never lied die now to keep their souls.” This shows his strength under pressure and in the face of death.
Abigail Williams - She is a very beautiful girl. She is an orphan who lives with her uncle, Reverend Parris. She is seventeen years old. Abigail is a rather static character who does not change through the play. She is not developed as a real character but merely serves the purpose to start the plot and keep it moving. Beyond that, she does little more. She gets the plot moving by introducing the idea of witches in the village to the townspeople, and keeps it moving by constantly accusing more women and plays upon the fears of the townspeople. Abigail is cunning, conniving, and deceitful. She says, “I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever I came near!” Through this, she is able to control Proctor to a certain extent. Later, Proctor is able to overcome her.
Rebecca Nurse - Rebecca is an old devote lady at 72. She has white hair and carries a walking stick. Her children were settled into separate homes within the same estate. Rebecca is kind, strong-willed, and wise. She says, “I have eleven children, and I am twenty-six times a grandma, and I have seen them all through their silly seasons, and when it comes on them they will run the Devil bowlegged keeping up with their mischief.” This shows her kindness and wisdom to children.
The Crucible is set against the backdrop of the mad witch hunts
of the Salem witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 17th century.
Since this story is based on a true story, its setting is real. The
fact that the story takes place during the 17th century is important.
the community needed to be superstitious and gullible in order for this
incident to have happened. Also, the event occurred within a Puritan
society with a strong aversion to witches.
Since this is a modern play, the actors use props and backdrops made to look like the actual setting. The various settings include Betty’s room, Proctor's living room and kitchen, the town jail, and the court room. The sets create a dismal atmosphere since all the areas settings are close and tense. Even the out of doors while usually considered free and wild are shown to be mysterious and dangerous in this play.
The theme of this play was rising over adversity, and standing
for truth even to death. This is the theme for many stories and is
always an exciting one. john, in the beginning, wanted to keep distant
from the trials. he did not want to have a part, whether good or
bad. When Elizabeth was arrested, he was forced to become a part
of it. Through the trail, he confessed of his affair and cleansed
himself of his sin. He stood for what he knew to be the truth, and
died as a martyr learning what truth meant through his sufferings.
Through Proctor’s struggle, Miller displays the struggles within each of our own hearts. Many times we have witnessed some wrong happening to some person and wished not to get involved. Proctor was forced into it and stuck to his guns throughout.
There is also another theme about the frantic hysteria of the mob. They were easily manipulated by Abigail’s lies and easily maneuvered into murdering many of the townspeople. Their hysteria was unfounded and absurd. Through this theme, Miller comments on the similar McCarthy trials during his time.
Miller’s style is very simple. He uses simple sentences and sentence structure with a simple vocabulary. While using the simple style, Miller does not take away from the suspense in he plot. The dialogues of his characters are like actual speech. His words are used effectively and does not include anything not necessary to convey the idea. He makes the plot and idea interesting by foreshadowing future events.
Miller’s diction is formal, yet simple and easy to understand. His language is plain and concise. There are several cases of imagery and metaphor.
“Abigail, is there any other cause than you have told me, for your being discharged from Goody Proctor’s service? I have heard it said, and I tell you as I heard it, that she comes so rarely to the church this year for she will not sit so close to something soiled. What signified that remark?” Pg. 12, spoken by Reverend Parris.
This comment spoken by Reverend Parris is more formal than most of the play since it is spoken by a reverend trying to get at some truth. However, this language is still clear and concise. It sets Parris’ character showing how he is somewhat overbearing in his manner of speech as he is trying to get Abigail to say or confess to something.
“And you must. You are no wintry man. I know you, John. I know you. I cannot sleep for dreamin’; I cannot dream but I wake and walk about the house as though I’d find you comin’ through some door.” Pg. 23, spoken by Abigail.
This passage is simple and has a little bit of rambling and repeated phrases. It is put together in such a way as to show emotion, yet from the other parts of the play, we know that this emotion is only acted. It displays Abigail's character to be deceiving, and sets an oppressed tone showing the state of Proctor’s mind.
“Spoke or silent, a promise is surely made. And she may dote on it now - I am sure she does - and thinks to kill me, then to take my place.” Pg. 61, spoken by Elizabeth.
This passage is plain and simple, and has deep meaning. The words, “Spoke or silent, a promise is sure made,” has a certain deep memorable quality to it. It shows that Elizabeth still thinks about the affair and is bothered by it. She does not forgive Abigail, and probably not Proctor, yet.
In The Crucible, the characters do not speak in fragments, and
some do occasionally string together phrases. Also, they do form
their thoughts carefully before speaking. The sentences are simple
and the structure does not vary too much.
In the first passage spoken by Reverend Parris, the speech is more formal that speeches spoken by other characters. This displays that Reverend Parris is more educated than the others. It has a somewhat fatherly, yet commanding tone.
The second passage spoken by Abigail is markedly different from the first passage. The sentences are less thought out and more fragmented. She repeats the phrase “I know you” several times. This shows less education but more deep emotion than the first passage. The tone for this line is moving, but when compiled with Abigail's character, becomes deceiving.
The third passage spoken by Elizabeth shows a clearly though out idea. It shows that while Elizabeth may not be as educated as someone like Parris, this is a subject that she has thought about a long time. This gives a tone of something like a bottom line or an ultimatum. While Elizabeth does not give a specific choice to Proctor, it is obvious that he must make a decision on what to do.
Miller does not rely too much on imagery. There are few cases of imagery in this play. One remarkably memorable one is the statement by Abigail about the way John Proctor “sweated like a stallion.” While this statement is also a simile, it provides an unforgettable image in the minds of the audience.
This work is not highly symbolic, but simply tells a story with the items and character it provides. There are several cases of symbolism that Miller uses, but were set by the people of the 17th century and not by himself. An example of this sort of symbolism is the doll. The doll symbolizes witchcraft, and when found in Elizabeth’s possession, she is accused of witchcraft.
12. Figurative Language
The most memorable case of simile is the line, “I know how you
clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever
I came near!” This statement compares Proctor with a stallion.
Miller rarely uses metaphors or personification in this work. His people generally referred to as people and items as items. Occasionally he alludes to some portion or person in the Bible, but rarely to anything else. For example, while John Proctor is speaking with Rebecca in prison, she alludes to the martyred apostles. Rebecca says, “Let you fear nothing! Another judgment waits us all.” This is an allusion to idea from the Bible that man is judged by God in heaven.
13. Ironic devices
Miller has few cases of verbal irony. He uses it in act
3 while Elizabeth tell she court that Proctor did not sleep with Abigail
she knows that he did.
All parts with the girls lying about witches and ghosts are cases of dramatic irony since, while the audience knows that the girls are lying, most of the characters do not. For example, in court, Abigail and the other girls pretend to be attacked by spirits and the people in court fear them to be in danger. However, the audience knows that they are faking it.
Miller’s attitude towards witchcraft is satirical. The tone is serious, cynical, and formal. He achieves this tone by the terrible tragedy of the innocent people executed, and the mental struggles of John Proctor. Miller shows the irony and the unjustness of the witch trials, and thereby the irony and the unjustness of the McCarthy trials.
15. Memorable Quotes
Abigail speaking to Proctor. “I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever I came near! Or did I dream that? It’s she put me out, you cannot pretend it were you. I saw your face when she put me out, and you loved me then and you do now.” Abigail tells this to John Proctor and trying to convince him through this that he should not interfere with what she is doing.
Mary Warren speaking to Proctor. “I’ll not be ordered to bed no more. Mr. Proctor! I am eighteen and a woman, however single!” Mary tries to assert her age and independence. It is ironic that Proctor is able to order her to court in the next few days, but she turns on him.
Proctor speaking to Danforth. “She thinks to dance with me on my wife’s grave! And well she might, for I thought of her softly. God help me, I lusted, and there is a promise in such sweat. But it is a whore’s vengeance, and you must see it; I set myself entirely in your hands.” This shows that Proctor knows his mistakes and regrets it, but he also knows that he must reveal it to the court in order to stop the trials. Sadly, he is not successful.
Elizabeth speaking to Proctor. “Great stones they lay upon his chest until he plead aye or nay. They say he give them but two words. ‘More weight,’ he says. And died.” This shows some humor in this though situation. Both Elizabeth and John are encouraged to fight harder, and it shows the courage and strength of Giles, and old man.
16. Additional Comments
The Crucible was a great play and I enjoyed reading it. The strength of John and the other martyrs really touched me, and hated the girls who caused the whole fiasco. They showed no care or remorse. The strained relationship between John and his wife due to the affair served as a good side story. It was touching at the end where John confesses, but Elizabeth upholds John’s righteousness, showing that she has forgiven him. I thought Giles was an interesting character. He was seen in the beginning as something of an old and slightly bitter man, but it is shown that he was rightous and stubborn in his righteousness. It served as a refreshing breath in the dismal story.