The Crucible Essay, Research Paper
TOPIC : A – The Crucible was written in the early 1950s as an exploration of events which took place in Massachusetts in 1692. What does the play have to offer an audience in Perth, Western Australia in 1996?
The Crucible is a play which brings to our attention many timeless issues. The nature of good and evil, power and its corruption, honour and integrity and our tendency to create scapegoats for all manner of problems are all brought up through the course of the play – sometimes in very dramatic fashion.
One of the subjects on which Miller commented was that of the notion that there is only pure, white goodness and cruel, unbending evil. In the play he shows us how people chase what they think is evil, (For example: not going to church, not knowing the Commandments, etc.) persecuting basically good people while the truly evil escape and are even seen as the innocent victims. The people of Salem condemned many based on the few things that were considered ungodly and since they committed one sin, then it was assumed that they were committing many others.
They were condemned because they did not follow the exact rules in their society which defined who was good and who was evil. The people who followed the rules were in turn deemed good , the nature of their true character being basically irrelevant. This is relevant to our time because history has shown us that it has happened before, for example, McCarthyist America where all communists were bad, all capitalists good, or in Nazi Germany – Jews were evil and were to be persecuted while all Aryans were good. In fact, McCarthyism was an underlying factor behind Miller writing the play. In those cases, evil was not the people who committed the real atrocities, but those who did not conform to the rules of their society, as was the case in Salem. Even now, many communists are condemned straight away because of their ideologies, even though their intentions are in many ways good.
The Crucible is also a study of honour and integrity. Most people have a conscience – the inner sense of morality which steers us towards what we think is right. However, in times of public strife, the conscience takes a back seat to what is expected of us. It takes a strong conscience to know when you are right and say so, even in the face of overwhelming opposition. Though this action is often honourable and noble in hindsight, during the actual event the majority usually rules and it is rarely well received.
Proctor chose to uphold his morals in the end, and for that he was hung. If he had chosen to confess, in the process lying and compromising his morals, the audience would not really have blamed him. By doing that however, he realised that he would be betraying his friends and sacrificing his conscience for his life. By sacrificing his life instead, and following his conscience, he became a true martyr in the eyes of the audience. Even in our day and age, the trend is still towards following the majority. We often stifle our own conscience so that we are not ourselves condemned, and though we applaud those who uphold it, we usually do not have the strength of character to do so ourselves. Proctor s death becomes a moral exclamation point, and it would have a profound effect on modern audiences.
Power plays a large part in the play. Miller serves a warning on the corrupting qualities of power, as all the major villains in the play possess it. When Abigail and the other girls find that they have a great power in their hands, they seek to take advantage of it. Danforth has the most power, and could have declared the proceedings at any time for the absurdity that they were, but even at the end when his actions were clearly and knowingly wrong he chose to continue.
The play show us how too much power is dangerous, for the temptation is always there to abuse it. Under the justification of a theocratic government, the people in authority in Salem abused their almost absolute power, destroying many innocent people in the process. It illustrates how the law is not always right, and if it isn t, that we should stand up to it. That was what Proctor did by challenging the court. It cost him his life, but what he did not lose were his principles. Power is not often held by the wise or the principled – but mostly in the hands of the self serving. In our mostly democratic governments today, the authorities are accountable to the society for their actions, and are thus controlled to a certain extent. We can see from the play that an entity wielding too much power with no accountability to anyone tends to be corrupted by that power.
It has often been shown that most societies create some sort of scapegoat for any problems that they experience. Salem at the time was no different. At the time, the populace was getting uneasy with the extreme measures the government took to ensure that they did not deviate, and there was general unrest. The desire to stifle this unrest could have led Danforth to persecute the witches even beyond the point at which any rationally thinking mind would realise that the actions were wrong. He might have wanted to show the populace how people who revolted (Proctor.) were dealt with and the hangings could have served as a deterrant to the social upheaval which was probably waiting to happen. Of course, the devil is always a very convenient scapegoat. This tendency to find scapegoats continues on today, and someone always has to be blamed besides ourselves.
The Crucible has much to offer an audience in 1996. The issues it dealt with then are much the same as the issues we deal with now. The modern audience can still relate to the issue of corrupting power, or the struggle to uphold the conscience, the issue of society s rules and our condemnation of those whoof those who go beyond those rules , along with our inherent desire to blame someone else , because of this connection. As with many good plays, The Crucible has many timeless facets which Miller has incorporated, and these can give us valuable insight into many of our own situations.