Information Technology High School
October 23, 2008
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
Characters & Characterization:
John Proctor: Protagonist
John Proctor is a typical hard working farmer who lives in the outskirts of town during these times. He owns acres of land, has two sons, and one wife—Elizabeth Proctor. But Proctor strays away from the “right” path, and goes down another which will lead him up to some consequences. His lust leads him to begin an affair with Abigail Williams, who used to be of service to the Proctor family. Once the trials begin to take place, Proctor realizes what he must do to stop the madness. But that is only if he stands up and confesses to his crime of adultery. A brave move like that would cost him his reputation in the town (his good name). Proctor tries to rat Abigail out as a fraud using Marry Warren to testify against Abigail’s doings without him having to reveal deep secrets. When that plan fails, he resorts to telling the truth, as much as he would not have liked to. Calling Abigail a “whore” and telling the court of his crime himself, he then realizes that all hope is gone. Not even the truth can break the powerful frenzy that he has let Abigail bring upon the town. All Proctors confession got him was being accused of witchcraft, and sentenced to be hanged.
Proctor is given a last chance to confess to his crimes, be set free and live. He gives in to the offer and confesses, but would not sign his name on the written confession. Proctor wants to save his name but on religious and personal terms rather than public reasons. He does not want to give a fake confession, to be true to the other prisoners; he doesn’t want to dishonor them for being brave enough to die to a true testimony. While he just lies and fakes his confession, just so he can live. Proctor decides not to give in, ruin his good name, and dishonor himself—walking to the gallows he gets hanged. With all his honor and goodness in his soul that will send him up to heaven for his good deeds.
Abigail Williams: Antagonist
A seventeen year old girl orphaned by Reverend Parris, had an affair and “fallen in love” with a married man, John Proctor. She does outrageous, almost obsessive deeds to obtain him and his love. Her tricky, devious, sinister, almost evil ways cause the whole town to turn upside down. Manipulating some younger girls in the town to do her bidding in court, she even threatens them with death if they do not listen. The town listens to the acts of these children, letting them have the keys to the kingdom. Once being shunned and looked down upon for being rumored of having an affair with John Proctor. Her time of revenge has come, she uses this act she and the girl plays in court to her advantage. Abigail testifies in court against innocent people who mocked her in the past—accusing them for being witches, using witchcraft and a devil-worshiper. She also uses her new power to dispose of Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of her lover, the only one in her way. Throughout the book all her motives are obviously driven by the jealousy and revenge of Elizabeth Proctor. Her sexual desire and lust for power is what drives her to the insane actions.
Setting Time: 1962 village full of Puritan settlers. The Puritans were very religious but also very superstitious, and things that could not be explained by reason or by the will of God were often point to the work of Satan.
Setting Place: Salem, Massachusetts
1. Ameliorate – To make or become better; improve
2. Probity – Integrity and uprightness; honesty
3. Vestry – A room or a building attached to a church
4. Ipso Facto – By the fact itself
5. Sibilance – Hissing sound
In a Puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts, a group of girls go dancing in the forest with a slave named Tituba. While they danced, they are caught by the local minister, Reverend Parris. One of the girls is Parris’s daughter, Betty—who falls into a coma. Rumors of witchcraft start roaming around and fill the town. The town has sent for Reverend Hale, a supposed expert on witchcraft. Parris asks Abigail about what happened that night in the forest. Abigail who is Reverend Parris’s niece says nothing else but the fact that they “danced.”
Parris tries to calm the crowd that has piled up in his home, Abigail talks to some of the other girls, telling them not to say anything about that night. John Proctor, a local farmer goes in and talks to Abigail one on one. While working in Proctors home the year before, Abigail and Proctors dark secret is unknown to anyone in the town. Their affair led Abigail to be angry at his wife, Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail obsessively wants Proctor and only him to her, but he tells her off and says to stop the games she has the girls playing on the town.
Betty soon wakes up and began screaming, everyone rushes upstairs and crowds around her bedroom. Debating whether she is bewitched or not, Proctor and Parris have a separate argument—about money and land. As people argue, Reverend Hale is here and examines Betty. Hale asks Abigail about what the girls did in the forest; he begins to doubt her answers and calls for Tituba. After the interrogation of Parris and Hale on Tituba, she cracks and confesses to talking with the devil. She starts to scream out a whole bunch of names and accuse them of helping the devil. Abigail soon joins Tituba, confessing that she saw the devil talking and scheming with some town folks. Betty soon also joins in, in naming people and the crowd is now in chaos.
Later, alone in their house outside of town, John and Elizabeth Proctor talk about the witch trials going on and how many people have been accused already. Elizabeth tries to persuade John to go and claim Abigail as a fake, he tells her no and she becomes jealous. Elizabeth accuses John of still having feelings for her—Marry Warren, their servant and one of the girls in Abigail’s little scheme comes back from Salem to say that Elizabeth has been accused. Thought the court did not go too deep onto the topic and just dismissed it. Suddenly officers of the court arrive at the Proctor house and arrest Elizabeth. After Elizabeth is taken away, Proctor calls to Mary and beats her, telling her how she must go and expose Abigail and the other girls as liars.
Proctor then brings Mary into court and tells Judge Danforth that she would testify against the girls and Abigail that they are all lying. Danforth doesn’t believe Proctor and tells him that Elizabeth is pregnant, and so she would be spared for some time. Proctor keeps insisting that Mary would testify against the girls, and when the girls are brought into court. They turn on Mary and accuse her of bewitching them all—Proctor is furious and then confesses to his crime of adultery with Abigail. Saying that she is doing all of this out of jealousy of his wife. To see if Proctor is telling the truth, Danforth calls for Elizabeth to come in and asks her if Proctor has been in anyway unfaithful to her. She does not know what is going on and so she lies to protect Proctor and his honorable good name. Danforth then accuses Proctor as a liar. Abigail and the other girls start to perform again and pretend that Mary is bewitching them all, forcing Mary to have no choice but to rejoin forces on Abigail’s side in order to save her own life. She accuses Proctor of being a witch in order to go back to Abigail’s side, in anger Proctor goes against Mary and the court causing him to get arrested.
Falling Action and Conclusion:
The witch trials have caused chaos and disturbance in the neighboring towns and Danforth starts to get nervous. Abigail runs away with all of Parris’s savings and money with her. Hale has already lost faith in the court and begs all of the innocently accused to confess to false testimonies in order to save their lives—but they don’t want to. However, Danforth has an idea—he asks Elizabeth to talk to John to persuade him to confess and she agrees to trying. He is troubled with the choice of being alive or living with dishonor—John then agrees to confess. Thought he would not tell anyone else’s name but his own and his own sins that he has committed. They insist that his confession should be made public, and then Proctor gets angry, backs out of the deal, tearing up the piece of document. He later walks his death walk to the gallows with the other prisoners, with both honor and goodness to his name. And the witch trials end.
“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. I know you must see it now.” (Page 110)
This quote is taken from Act III, when Proctor breaks down and confesses about his affair with Abigail. After trying everything he can do to expose her fraud actions, without having to spill the secret. I agree with this quote and now the cat is out of the bag, Proctor knew from the beginning that the witch trials were nothing more than a “whore’s vengeance,” Abigail’s revenge on Proctor for ending their affair. But she does not make that fact known to the public, which she knows would lead to his disgrace and doesn’t want that for him. In court Proctors self consciously knows that the importance of the justice is bigger than his personal reputation. This drives him to confess and do what is needed to expose Abigail and the witch trials. In horror he realizes his actions are too late, instead Abigail calls Proctor a liar and he is then accused of witchcraft by the court. His good notions lead him to nothing; it simply backfires and destroys him.
“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” (Page 143)
I agree with this quote which is from the end of the play in Act IV, when Proctor is debating with himself if he would confess to a fake testimony and save himself or not. The judges and Hale have convinced him to say a false confession, but the last part is to sign the written testimony. Which Proctor can’t seem to do, he can’t bring himself to give in and sign a fake confession. His will doesn’t let him sign the paper, to dare not dishonor his fellow prisoners who stand by a true confession and will be hanged. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself knowing that the others decided not to take the quick and easy way out to live. It shows how Proctor is so engulfed with having his good name; reputation back then was a huge thing. In the beginning of the play he refuses to confess to adultery to protect his good name. Now he realized what a good reputation means and what you have to do to achieve it. Which means not to lie to save himself, but tell the truth thus leads him to his death—but he kept his goodness.
Man vs. Society: Proctor vs. Society
Proctor has issues with society, everyone is accusing another person in being witches. People joining in the convicting circle to gain something or just to spite someone. Proctor is the only one how knows/thinks that the girls are just playing with the whole village. Yet Abigail and the girls’ “connection” with God is so strong, this Puritan filled town is willing to believe their every will and call. Proctor cannot get anyone to believe that the girls are lying unless he reveals the deepest, darkest of secrets he can keep as a good man. He must sacrifice his good name in order to get any chance of anyone believing him. Since he would not just willingly throw away his good name for no purpose at all. But in the end spoiling his good name did not do anything for him at all—it was all too late. The girls controlled the whole village, and they could not be stopped. Proctor was arrested and was to be hanged.
Focused on keeping a public reputation, the people of Salem fear that the sins of their friends will taint their names. Many characters in the book base their actions on the desire to protect their reputations. At the beginning of the play, Rev. Parris fear Abigail's questionable actions, and the hints of witchcraft about his daughter in a coma, which will threaten his reputation and force him from his high representative seat. Meanwhile John Proctor also wants to keep his good name from being ruined. Reputation is tremendously important in Salem, where public and private conducts are one and the same. “I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” (Page 143) Especially where reputation plays such an important role in this situation, the fear of guilt becomes very dangerous. Earlier on in the play, Proctor has the chance to stop the accusations by the girls’, but his obsession to keep a good name keeps him from testifying against Abigail and revealing everything. However at the end of the play, Proctor’s desire to keep his name makes him choose a heroic choice of not to make a false confession. He goes to his death without signing his name to the statement, which lets him regain his good name and die with honor.
The girls’ first accusations start the frenzy that comes, Miller lets us see how peer pressure can lead people into taking part in actions which they know are wrong. “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. And you know I can do it; I saw Indians smash my dear parents’ heads on the pillow next to mine, and I have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down!” (Page 20) Abigail pressures the other girls into doing only what they are told to do. Even though they wanted to get out of it and just tell the truth. In a community like this, reactions to accusations are quickly blamed for and looked down upon. He also connects the huge hysteria of Salem to the community’s religious and strict attitude towards sex. Sexual things done and other physical expression is repressed and broken rules will be whipped for.
The Witch Trials and McCarthyism:
Throughout The Crucible, the play can be seen as symbolic of the time about communism that affected America in the 1950s. There were many similarities to the House Un-American Activities Committee's strategies of rooting out suspected communists during this time and the seventeenth-century witch-hunt that Miller tells us in The Crucible (the narrow-mindedness). As the accused witches of Salem, likewise the suspected Communists were encouraged to confess their crimes and to “name names,” (“I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another. I have no tongue for it.” page 141) identifying others. While there were (as far as we know) no actual witches in Salem, there were actual Communists in 1950s America. However, one can argue that Miller's concern in The Crucible is not with whether the accused were actually witches, but rather with the unwillingness of the court officials to believe that they are not. McCarthyist extremes, which wronged many innocents, this similarity were portrayed strongly in Miller's work and time.
Abigail claims herself to be so “pure” and “holy”, when she accuses the innocent people of witchcraft and sentences them to death—that’s not a very pure or holy deed to do. Especially when it’s all pretend and fake, someone so pure and holy could not fake others into believing that this one person deserves death because one says so. She also is having a secret affair with John Proctor, “She has an arrow in you yet, John Proctor, and you know it well!” (page 62, Elizabeth), “You love me John Proctor, and whatever sin it is you love me yet!” (page 24, Abigail). Also the whole point of Abigail starting all of this was to get John Proctor all to herself and in the end he wound up dead anyhow. Elizabeth knew the truth about her husband’s affair and expressed it to him directly too. Yet in court when asked and questioned by Judge Danforth she denied any type of unfaithfulness her husband has towards her. “My husband—is a goodly man, sir.” (page 113, Elizabeth). Also when John was asked to recite the 10 commandments for Hale, the one he could not remember is the one he sinned—adultery. “Adultery, John” (page 67, Elizabeth to John).
“Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small” (page 67, Hale).
This is a metaphor said by Hale, addressed to John proctor. Hale had asked John to name all the 10 commandments in order to prove his Christianity towards God. John missed out and forgot to name only one commandment—adultery. He apologized saying it just slipped his mind but Hale answered back with that quote. Comparing his lack of knowledge of his religion to the crack in the fortress. Since back then the Puritans lived their lives around the church and so the church life is the fortress. If one person doesn’t know one commandment, who knows who else doesn’t know worse. Hale is just pointing out that he must know every single thing, not to slip and mess up because that one little default in the whole community—can mess everything up.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. New York: Viking Penguin Inc. 1953
In a quiet town of Salem, Massachusetts one seventeen year old girl will disturb the peace of that town. Caused by jealousy and anger Abigail Williams will do the unthinkable, start to accuse the innocent who mocked her as devil worshipers. In a Puritan village that is something horrible to be convicted of, and this is all just fun and games for her. Her lover, John Proctor a married man with three children of his own—tries to stop her. But Abigail and her little party of girls’ continue to jingle the keys of the kingdom and not even the truth can stop the convictions from happening. So what can? When will the chaos end?