The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller which was staged on Broadway’s Martin Beck Theatre on January 22nd 1953. The play won the “Best play” Tony Award in the same year in spite of hostile reviews. A year later it became more popular and soon became a classic. Initially the play was called “The Chronicles of Sarah Good” and it recreated the witch trials in Salem during 1692 and 1693. Some of the real incidents that took place in the life of Arthur Miller are also incorporated in the play suited to the theme of the play.
First instance of Heretical Activities in Salem
Betty Parris is ill and Reverend Parris, her father, thinks she was a part of the witch craft that some were practising and gets the help of Reverend John Hale, an expert in this , to get to the bottom of the foul play. But what happens is a mudslinging match, so to say, between all the characters in the story and at the end we are unsure who is really guilty and who is not. As the story unveils there are land grabbing incidents, cases of adultery and more. At the end many accused are hanged without going through a fair trial.
Betty Parris swoons as soon as he is seen by her father with a group of girls in the forest with their slave, indulging in a strange dance. Since then she has not woken up or responded to any medicines or prayers and her father is worried and praying beside her bed. He also sends for Rev Hale from Beverly to sort out the problem. Abigail Williams, niece of Parris, was also with Betty and Tituba, the slave. But she denies that they were involved in any heretical activity and maintains that they were just dancing.
Many Cases Come Out In the Open
People start trickling into Parris’ house and many of them believe that witchcraft is being practised in their town and that it had to end. The servants of other household who were a part of the dance in the night also arrive and Abigail tells them that she has told Parris about the incidents that took place in the night. But Betty who wakes up a little before cries that Abigail did not tell about them drinking blood. Abigail slaps Betty and she swoons again. There is no one who witnesses this scene other than the girls involved. Meanwhile John Proctor, a local farmer enters the house. He is not a regular in going to church and he has had an affair with Abigail while she worked for him. When his wife Elizabeth knew of it she sent Abigail out of the household. This secret is not known to many.
John Proctor professes he is above hypocrisy and cheating while he is actually guilty of hiding the secret affair he had once with Abigail and she has still not got over him. She wants to eliminate Elizabeth from her way and be united with Proctor. Proctor, however is not keen and repels her overtures. Rebecca Nurse a respected citizen is wary of all the proceedings that is happening Salem. She feels that the entire enquiry will only lead to dispute and ill feeling amongst the people of Salem. And she is absolutely right. Rev Hale comes and starts his enquiry and realizes so many issues like land grabbing, fight of the Reverend’s post, Parris’ excess love for money and more is thrown up.
Women Break Out Of Their Shell
Slowly the matter is taken to the court and one by one the women in the community are named and most of them are arrested. There is no trial and many are sentenced to death. Abigail manages to trap Elizabeth as she wanted to but she escapes as she is pregnant and her sentence would be reviewed after the birth of the child. Proctor seems to know about the people involved in this but he refuses to divulge. He comes to a point of confessing but finally tears off the paper. He says he will confess his mistakes but will not disclose the secrets of others.
Proctor is taken to the gallows with the remaining accused. Abigail manages to escape but leaves Salem after robbing Parris. Parris is voted out from his post and he leaves Salem. Farmlands and cattle have lost their owners and there is no tilling with the result the lands have become fallow and Salem is longer a place which was prosperous once upon a time. The play very strongly condemns the death of people supposed to have practised witchcraft. Women were generally marginalized in Salem society until they are fit enough to get married and children. This block is broken and the women like Abigail and Mary raise their status by accusing others of heretical activities.
The major themes that strike the reader are intolerance, hysteria and reputation. Salem was governed by religious laws. There were no civic laws and all laws of the state were that laid down by the church. There were believers in God or believers in Satan. They could not accept there could be people who did not belong to both categories or that people belonged to both these as well. Therefore intolerance was at its peak and that was how the witch trials brought about the gruesome end to many. Intolerance instigated the hysteria in many characters of the story. Everyone tries to maintain their reputation but the others try to tarnish that reputation. The story moves on in this vicious cycle.
The Crucible draws many comparisons with America of 1950’s. While in the seventeenth century rooting out witchcraft was the basis for punishing people, in the 1950’s communist were targeted. It is well known that Russia represented communism while America represented capitalism. So people with communist ideas were hounded and destroyed in different ways. People were asked to confess their allegiance to communism and also name others who were conformists. Arthur Miller draws a comparison that in both the cases the judicial system was not patient enough to get to the bottom of the truth before announcing a punishment.