He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1938 where he began todistinguish himself as a playwright. His first plays were Honorsat Dawn (1936) and No Villain (1937) which won the University of MichiganHopwood Awards. His Death of a Salesman won the Pulitzer prize in1949. Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953 during the McCarthy periodwhen 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 Committeewhere he was found guilty of beliefs in communism. The verdict wasreversed in 1957 in an appeals court. Miller married Marylin Monroein 1956 but divorced her in 1961. The Crucible is set against thebackdrop of the mad witch hunts of the Salem witch trials in the late 17thcentury. It is about a town, after accusations from a few girls,which begins a mad hunt for witches that did not exist. Many townspeoplewere hanged on charges of witchcraft.
Miller brings out the absurdityof the incident with the theme of truth and righteousness. The themeis conveyed through the struggles of Miller’s main character, John Proctor. SummaryAct one begins with Reverend Parrispraying over her daughter, Betty Parris, who lies unconscious on her bed. Through conversations between Reverend Parris and his niece Abigail Williams,and between several girls, the audience learns that these girls, includingAbigail and Betty, were engaged in occultic activities in the forest leadby Tituba, Parris’ slave from Barbados. Parris caught them and jumpedfrom a bush startling the girls. Betty fainted and had not recovered.
During this session, Abigail drank chicken blood to kill Elizabeth Proctor. She tells the girls that she will kill anyone who mutters a word aboutwhat happened. The townspeople do not know exactly what the girlswere doing but there are rumors of witchcraft. John Proctor enters the room whereBetty lies faint. Abigail is still in there and she tries to seducehim. Proctor is a farmer who has had an affair with Abigail a whileago, but now he wants to forget it.
Reverend John Hale is summoned tolook upon Betty and the research the incident. He is an expert inoccultic phenomena and he is eager to show his knowledge. He questionsAbigail who accuses Tituba as being a witch. Tituba, afraid of beinghanged, confesses faith in God and accuses Goody Good and Goody Osborneof witchcraft. Abigail and Betty, who has woken up, claim to havebeen bewitched and confess faith in God. They name several otherpeople whom they claim they saw with the Devil.
Act two begins eight days afterthe discussion at Parris’ house. Between act one and act two, DeputyGovernor Dansforth came to Salem to oversee the court proceedings. Fourteen people have been arrested for witchcraft, and there is talk ofhanging. Elizabeth Proctor asks John to go to the court and testifyagainst Abigail and the other girls. John doesn’t want to get involved. There is tension between Elizabeth and John since Elizabeth has not forgivenJohn for the affair.
Marry Warren enters. She was in courttestifying against the townspeople. She gives Elizabeth a doll whichshe has made in court. In the middle of their discussion, Hale entersto question John and Elizabeth, suspicious of witchcraft.
Later,Giles Corey and Francis Nurse enter to seek advice after both their wiveshad been arrested. Next, the marshal arrives with a warrant for Elizabeth’sarrest. Elizabeth was accused by Abigail for stabbing Abigail witha needle through a doll. John Proctor protests but Elizabeth is takenaway in chains. Proctor demands Mary that she goes to court and testifyagainst the girls.
He vows that he will fight the proceedings, evenif it means confessing his own adultery. Act three takes place in court. Francis Nurse, Giles Corey, and John Proctor present their case againstthe girls to Deputy Governor Dansforth and Judge Hathorne. Proctorpresents a petition signed by 91 people testifying to the good characterof their wives, and Dansforth issues warrants for the questioning of allof them. Corey charges Putnam on inciting his daughter to accuseCorey of witchcraft in order get his land. Corey has a witness butwill not name him for fear of getting the man arrested.
Corey isarrested because of contempt of the court. Proctor presents his case and adeposition by Mary Warren saying that she never saw the devil or any spirits. Abigail says that Mary is lying and she and the girls pretend to be bewitchedby Mary. Proctor, frustrated at the gullibility of the court, grabs Abigailby the hair and exclaims to everyone that she is a whore confessing thathe had an affair with Abigail.
Elizabeth is brought in to be questionedabout whether this is true. Elizabeth tells the court that John Proctornever had an affair with Abigail in order to save his name, however, thisdestroys Proctor’s testimony. Mary crumbles under the peer pressureand returns to Abigail’s side, accusing Proctor of being a witch. The girls pretend to be bewitched by Proctor. Proctor accuses Danforthof being afraid to reveal the truth. Dansforth acts more to keepthe reputation of the court rather than for justice.
Reverend Halenow sees the evil in the court and denounces the proceedings. Proctoris arrested. Act four begins in prison whereSarah Good and Tituba wait to be hanged. They have gone insane andbelieve that Satan will take them both to Barbados. There is rumors of an uprising ina nearby town due to similar witch trials.
The townspeople are afraidof a similar riot in Salem. Hale and Parris are now terrified. They go to visit the innocent people in the jail and beg them to make falseconfessions in order to save their lives. Hale believes that theblood of the people who are being hanged is on his hands.
He asksElizabeth, who is now pregnant, to tell John to confess to save his lifebut Elizabeth will not. While Elizabeth is talking to John, she tellshim that she has forgiven him of his affair and tells his that he can doas he will. John Proctor confesses that he is a witch, but will notsay the others are. After a few moments, Proctor is fed up with thecourt, tears up his confession, and goes out to be hanged with RebeccaNurse. Hales pleads that Elizabeth ask Proctor to confess, but shesays, “He has his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!”PlotIn The Crucible all the event flownaturally from one event to the next.
Everything happens naturallyfrom the natures of the characters. The fact that the story isn’tcontrived, and even more that it is based on a true story is interesting. The result is so unbelievable. The incident begins with the girlsdancing in the forest and snowballs into a huge witch hunt. The plotwas exciting. There was sufficient conflict to keep my interest aroused.
There are a lot of tension and suspense in the story. It covers basichuman instincts and qualities. It shows the human necessityfor survival, and the lengths at which a person will go to save his life. There is the idea of honor and truth. Proctor tries to keep his reputationbut gives it up to reveal the truth.
Through his struggle he achievesrighteousness. All these things keep the plot moving. Proctor’srelationship with Elizabeth can be seen to grow and mature. He continuallygrows more pure in Elizabeth’s sight until she is able to forgive him inact four. Proctor’ character also improves. He doesn’t wantto get involved in the court proceedings in act two but stands up for thetruth in act four.
CharactersEach character has his own distinctquality. Most characters are distinctly good or evil though few charactersare really developed. The reader is only able to see one side ofeach character. Even John Proctor, the main character isn’t as developedas it could be. This is probably due to the restrictions of timeand narration of this particular genre. Parris – A minister in Salem who is moreworried about his own reputation than the town or the truth.
Betty – Parris’ daughter. She isfaint in the beginning of the play and later accuses various people forwitchcraft. Abigail – Parris’ niece and Proctor’s mistress. She is the leader of the girls who accuses people of witchcraft duringthe trial. Tituba – Parris’ slave from Barbados. She is the first accused with being accused by Abigail.
Mrs. Putnam – Wife of Thomas Putnam. She first plants the idea of Betty being bewitched. Ruth – Daughter of the Putnams. Sheis one of Abigail’s friends who accuses people at the trial. Mercy Lewis – Putnams’ servant.
Sheis also involved in the accusations of the witches. John Proctor – Main character. Heis a good man, but has committed adultery with Abigail. Elizabeth Proctor – John Proctor’s wife.
She is an upright woman who is accused of being a witch. She couldn’tforgive Proctor for adultery until just before he died. Mary Warren – Proctor’s servant. She is one of Abigail’s friends and plants evidence on Elizabeth.
Reverend Hale – Self proclaimed experton witchcraft. He is a minister who at first believes the girls accusationsbut eventually sees the evil in the court. Deputy Governor Dansforth – Deputy Governorof Massachusetts who believes the testimony of the girls despite evidenceto the contrary. He works more to keep the reputation of the courtthan to seek justice.
Judge Hathorne – Judge presiding over thewitch trials. Rebecca Nurse – Respected, upright wifeof Francis nurse. She is accused of witchcraft. Francis Nurse – Rebecca’s Husband. He had land disputes with the Putnams.
Giles Corey – Old cranky villager who accidentallycauses his wife to be accused. Sarah Good – She is an accused witch whobecomes insane while awaiting her hanging. Susanna – One of Abigail’s friendswho takes part in accusing the villagers. Cheever – He arrests the witches. Herrick – Also arrests the witches. Is the jail keeping.
Hopkins – Messenger. SettingThe play takes place in Salem, Massachusettsduring the 17 century. Since this story is based on a true story,the setting is real. The fact that the story takes place during the17 century is important.
The community needed to be superstitiousand gullible in order for this incident to actually happen. Also,the event needed to be in a Puritan society to have such an aversion towitches. People in the twentieth and even the nineteenth centurieswould be too skeptical about the supernatural to believe the girls. Also, they would be likely to dismiss the act of dancing in the forestas just a little game. StyleMiller’s style is very simple.
He uses simple sentences and words which are easy to understand. He brings out the evil quality of Abigail and the other girls and alsothe gullibility of the judges. His style is easy to understand andshould be in order to be successful as a play. While using the simplestyle, Miller doesn’t take anything away from the suspense in the plot. The dialogues of his character are like actual speech. His wordsare used effectively and doesn’t include anything not necessary for makinga good play.
Many clever figurative devices are used. For example,Abigail says that John “sweated like a stallion. ” The writing isreally that memorable since it was not really written as prose or poetry. However, certain images as the one previously mentioned are hard to forget. ThemeThe theme of the story was risingover adversity, and standing for the truth even to death. This isthe theme for many stories and is always an exciting one.
John, inthe beginning, wanted to keep distant from the trials. He did notwant to have a part, whether good or bad. When Elizabeth was arrested,he was forced to become part of it. He went to court first to sethis wife free but after watching the proceedings, he saw that the evilwas not only being done to his own wife but many others like his wife. As a result, he worked even harder to free the other innocent people, gettinghimself arrested.
Despite this drawback, he did not give up. He had the chance to free himself if he testified against the others buthe realized that this would be wrong, and even though he wanted to freehimself, he would not if it meant bringing trouble upon others. Hecleansed himself at the trial, standing for what he knew was right anddied a righteous person. Though he stayed away from church, he becamemore pure than the common Puritans, dying as a martyr like the originalapostles.
He learned what truth meant through his suffering. Through Proctor’s struggle, Millerdisplays the struggles within each of our own hearts. Many timeswe have witnessed some wrong happening to some other person and wishednot to get involved. However, sometimes, like Proctor, there mightbe something that forces us in.
Would we be quit after only savingour wife like Proctor could have done, or would we go for the entire communityas Proctor did?ConclusionThe story reminds its readers ofan ugly blemish on human history. It reminds us that man is not perfect,and that we can make mistakes. However, even with these mistakes,we can cleanse ourselves and purify ourselves by making what is wrong right. The sufferings become to the sufferer like a crucible.