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The Crucible Thematic Essay

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Ben Boyd English 11H

The Crucible: Thematic Essay

The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is a rich and enticing play set in the late 1600’s describing the epic horrors and emotions through the events of the Salem witch trials. The Crucible, focuses primarily on the inconsistencies of the Salem witch trials and the extreme behavior that can result from dark desires and hidden agendas. The play begins with the discovery of several young girls and an African American slave, Tituba, in the woods just outside of Salem, dancing and pretending to conjure spirits. The Puritans of Salem stood for complete religious intolerance and stressed the need to follow the ways of the bible literally without exception. The actions of the women in the woods are entirely non-puritanical and, when caught, these actions led to dire consequences. Based around senseless and childish finger-pointing The Crucible portrays the thematic ideas of self-preservation, social responsibility, as well as desire and the quest for power.

To begin to understand the themes of the play, one must note that during this time period, religion was everything. Religious figures and governmental politics were maliciously intertwined, thus if one was to disagree with an authoritative power, it would be like refusing the notion of a divine dictator. Disagreeing with this authority would almost always lead to mass hysteria due to the chaos caused by the will of each person to survive and “self-preserve”

The opening act begins just after the “unseen” scene in the woods and figuratively sets the stage and serves as a catalyst for the remaining action of the play. This “unseen” scene is symbolic of the suppression of desire, which is paramount in Salem. Desire, of course, has different interpretations depending on the character throughout the play. For Abigail, desire reflects her longing for John Proctors love. She had not known love of anyone until she became a servant to the proctor household. Desire is also linked to another major theme of the quest for power, as shown with Parris’s desire for control and authority.

Almost, if not definitely treated as second-class citizens, women played an interesting role in the play. Women must wear hats covering their hair and show nearly no emotion while walking in the streets. Looking into a mans eyes while walking from building to building to complete every day choirs could be dastardly to any woman’s survival. It is apparent that in order for the women in this society to indulge in the physical enjoyments, they must venture outside of Salem solely to do such a simple activity, to dance. This being understood, it was a very thin line which women were walking along to keep themselves from becoming too well noticed and risking exposal and the accusation of being a witch. Any unnatural causes of death and unnatural behaviors in anyone were almost always somehow linked to the idea of witchcraft. An example of this may be seen in Act I when Betty loses consciousness directly after the girls are caught by Reverend Parris in the woods, and the town physician, Doctor Griggs, suggests witchcraft as a cause for Betty not waking up. After witchcraft is rooted as a possible cause for Betty’s illness, an entire chain of problems begins in the act of self-preservation.

The basic social responsibility of any woman in the Puritan setting is to be subservient to the men of Salem. Proctor seems to have no regret or feeling when it comes to threatening a woman to be whipped. It is also seen that there are no authoritative women figures. Hale, Hathorne, Danforth, Cheever, and Herrick are all male characters who represent the authority in the town. Miller clearly either made the character outline this way to provide further ideas of how men were supposedly superior during this time period or just as a historical reference.

Abigail demonstrates her quest for power by using intimidation to suppress the other women of the community into fear of rising against her. “Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you… I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!” (19) This threat foreshadows Abigails eventual accusations against the other women of the town. Just as she threatens to harm the other girls through conjurings and witchcraft if they do not comply to what she says, Abigail later carefully takes the eyes of justice off of herself by accusing others of witchcraft. What begins as a simple act of preservation, quickly turns into an opportunity to achieve power and ultimately win over John Proctor for herself.

Religion is almost used as a weapon in some cases against certain individuals. Using the idea of religion as a weapon also symbolizes a method to receive power and authority. Reverend Parris and John Proctor are involved in a slight dialectic conflict which ultimately demonstrates Parris’ desire for authority. Parris views Proctor as his primary opponent throughout the play, demonstrated first when Parris accuses Proctor of leading a faction against him. Parris’ anger rises against the members of the community when he feels that Salem fails to recognize their “obligations towards the ministry”.

In act II, Elizabeth and John Proctors feelings for each other are first expressed. Tension and mutual frustration may define their relationship in this act. Social responsibility is demonstrated in the angered dialogue between Elizabeth and Proctor. An example of Proctor demonstrating his social responsibility is when he confesses his sins of having an affair with Abigail. Even though he knew it was wrong it was up to him to admit that he had done it to stay honest to himself, keep his name clean, and live free from guilt. The act of confession by John also demonstrates his act of self preservation. If John had not confessed he would



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