, Research Paper
How is The Crucible appropriately titled?
The word crucible is used by Arthur Miller in his play as a metaphor. The first definition of the word crucible is: a melting pot especially for metals. In the play this is first acknowledged during the first act, as we gradually piece together the information concerning the girls dancing. The kettle viewed by Reverend Parris mirrors a crucible. We are told that the girls had made a brew which contained a little frog and blood is therefore viewed by the characters involved as a potent, fearsome mixture and this signifies the beginning of the Salem tragedy. It seems that from this brew a more sinister force is released. The dancing and the contents of the little pot seem to fuel the rumours, lies and tragedy of Salem. From this point onwards, lies which in turn arouse suspicion ending ultimately in the destruction of the Salem community. Even in the next part of the play we observe Tituba create and elaborate lies which is the first we see of the evil which is unleashed by the witch hunt. There was very little privacy in Salem mainly because the fact that it was a theocracy and crimes were an offence not only against God but also against the community. Therefore there was pressure for neighbours to reveal other s sin. The desire for privacy makes one suspect others because if they do not convict others it looks as if they themselves might have something to hide. It is ironic that Reverend Parris says that the witchcraft investigation might reveal the source of all the community s problems Why, Rebecca, we may open up the boil of all our troubles today because in the end the witchcraft investigation provokes the burning down and destruction of the community.
The witch trials are also metaphorically a melting pot, again, for people s grudges, and their seeking of revenge. The play shows us also how people can give into their fear and superstition. The trials are not really about witchcraft, Abigail admits to John in private how the witchery is a hoax We were dancing in the woods last night and my uncle leaped out on us. She took fright, is all . As she says this she is confident and relates the situation with a wicked air of control. This not to say people in Salem do not believe in the supernatural. Although many people in The Crucible believe in witches, many Salem residents simply take advantage of the trials to express long held grudges and to achieve their revenge on their enemies. It is a melting pot of suspicion and vengeance with nearly everyone trying to pull power out of the pot. The Salem community was rife with latent hostilities and the witch trials provided an outlet for the expression of those hostilities in a society which had little opportunity for speaking out. The society was so confined and ordered so when people had a small chance to experience freedom they went to far to the other extreme and suspicions and envy burst into revenge. Individual disputes were considered immoral because they meant breaking charity with s one neighbours. There was much unexpressed, unexpiated guilt in the community. For example Abigail had a grudge against Elizabeth Proctor because Elizabeth fired her after she discovered that Abigail was having an affair with her husband, John Proctor. Abigail used the witchcraft craze to accuse Elizabeth and have her sent to jail.
The purpose of a crucible is to melt things in and for this you need very high temperatures. This is illustrated in the play, when the judge Danforth says to Proctor in Act Three We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment . The court scenes were times of tension, intensity, pressure and conflicts between powerful authority refusing to realise they have signed away innocent lives on the strength of a lie. Also things are permanently and physically changed in a crucible, they are turned from one thing into another. This is reflected in the play by the fact that many things in the play are exerted to high pressure and pushed to the limits of reason due to the dramatic tension. The pressures show in the people many of whom become hysterical. The play examines the permanent conditions of the climate of hysteria and the consequences. The situation escalates and we watch the strange moral alchemy by which the accused become inviolable; the disrepute which overtakes the testimony of simple intelligence; the insistence on public penance; the willingness to absolve if guilt is confessed.
The etymology of the word crucible also has direct connotations with the play. The word is devrived from the Latin Crucibulum, with the first part of the Latin being similar to the Latin word Crux (a cross). This is linked to the play in several ways. Firstly, the play is written around the story of a good hardworking man, John Proctor whom however is a sinner. The play is concerned with the changes taking place in his life leading to his decision to hang, his vicissitude. He does not want to save himself by sullying the good names of others. The events of the play are really the crossroads of his life in the way that he must either between saving his life, with lies or dying for what he really believes in and finding his truth. He finds this very difficult and says to his wife towards the end of the play Let Rebecca go like a saint, for me it is a fraud . He feels because he is already a sinner he will go to hell and should not be idolised by the people who believe in his cause. The play is about him finding his goodness and choosing the right path to follow despite temptations. He realises by the end of the play that he has chosen right for he says I can. And there s your first marvel, that I can. You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from the dogs . Secondly the Latin word Crux also has connotations with crucifixion. John is crucified, not in the way that dies on a cross but in the way that he is hung for what he believes in.
Many other things are heated to high temperatures in the play such as emotions and values. In fact many of the characters go through changes because of the intensity of the play. Moreover the title of the play, crucible also means severe test of trial. Elizabeth Proctor for example would never normally lie. However when she feels she may save her husband she protects him (or so she thinks) in court by denying the fact that he committed lechery. She lies only because she releases that no matter what she needs to protect her husband. The severe intensity and pressure of the court scenes also represent and connect to the theme of heating things to high temperatures. The tension involved in the court scenes is immense. This is illustrated by the way the judges address the people they are questioning especially when they are trying to make them admit something. The way he uses the language compels the person involved to admit to something. For example when Danforth questions Mary Warren, he forces her to lie because if she does not it, he makes it seem to her she has committed a worse crime by not telling the truth before. The judges also by the time it comes to John Procter s case are unwilling to listen to reasoned argument because they do not want to admit that they have already made serious miscarriages of justice. Danforth says when asked to postpone the death of John Proctor that postponement would cast doubt on the twelve previous executions. Danforth and Hathorne are more interested in preserving the appearance of justice than performing actual justice. John Proctor makes connotations Salem is like hell, at the end of Act Three when he has been accused of allegiance with Hell A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! . And we will burn, we will burn together! . Hell can be compared with a crucible in the way that a crucible is hot and Hell is perceived to be hot.
The relationship between John and Abigail can also be likened to the word Crucible again because it represents the high temperatures and permanent changes of reactions which, take place in a crucible. The relationship between Abigail and John is very intense, both with passionately and physically, in a way filling the gap due the opposite relationship John has wife his wife Elizabeth. Abigail says to John during Act One I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever I come near! . John is also tested by the relationship. He admits that he still has feelings for Abigail but knows that he must not succumb to them again and that he has a duty to be faithful to Elizabeth. He says to her during Act one Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I ll ever reach for you again . The relationship alters as well from a fiery affair into a conflict of profound jealousy causing violent and deep felt pain for all victims of Abigail s self-centred, dishonest accusations.
Another parallel between the word crucible, and the play is the fact that a meaning of the word crucible, is a severe test or trial. John Proctor is the protagonist of the play and much of the play explores his moral passion and his dilemma. John Proctor however is a sinner. He had an affair with Abigail when she was his household servant. He hates hypocrisy and his hidden sin causes him a great deal of moral anguish. He does not expose Abigail as a fraud until it is too late. When he is convicted of witchery he wrestles with his conscience about whether he should confess or be hanged. His predicament regarding confession of witchcraft is the same: he does not want to save himself by sullying the good names of others. He says towards the end of the crucible to his wife, Would you give them such a lie? You would not; if tongs of fire were singeing you you would not! John Proctor is sometimes fallible and subject to pride but when forced to choose between the negative good of truth and morality and the positive good of human life under any circumstance, he makes the right design and finds his goodness. This shown by the last line of the play: He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it away from him!
The play however although actually concerned with the Salem witchcraft trials was infact aimed at the then widespread anti- red paranoia and the congressional investigation of the subversive activities in the United States led by the power craving Senator Joseph McCarthy. The play is not purely a parable of human nature the events are used as an allegory for what was happening in the 1950 s America. Both societies were afraid of what was their own naivety and believed there was a constant force trying to rip them apart. They found scapegoats on which to blame their own insecurity on, the devil in Salem and Communists in 1950 s America. Arthur Miller uses his play to explain the behaviour of the Salem community and to make a moral stance on what he saw as mindless persecution. Many lives and careers were ruined by the McCarthyite trials. The people summoned before the House of Anti American activities were only required to betray others by naming names as in The Crucible. Those who did not were blacklisted. The title The Crucible is therefore relevant to the McCarthyism. In 1956 Arthur Miller was tried before the house. He refused to name others who had been at particular communist meetings years before and was convicted of contempt. The trials were a severe test or trial for him. Like John Proctor he had not looked to be tested but felt very strongly about only taking responsibly directly for his actions and refused to ruin others. He said during his trial I could not use the name of another and bring trouble on him I take the responsibility of everything I have ever done, but I cannot take the responsibility for another human being. Proctor acted very similarly in his trial he said I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another . Proctor and Miller were could see beyond the hysteria concerning ridiculous accusations and were not prepared to betray others to save themselves.
In conclusion the Crucible is linked to the play both metaphorically, directly and historically. It is an interesting fact that a crucible is a melting pot especially for metals because the word metals has a homophone, mettle which means natural ardour, spirit, strength or courage. These are some of the qualities John Proctor displays towards the end of the book as his mettle is tested and purified. The title is relevant to most of the themes and issues that the play explores. The title is very effective due the fact it is provocative and encourages one to reflect on the play, its meaning and also its contemporary truth.