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Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” Essay

Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”, a powerful and compelling play, is one that explores the theme of power. “The Crucible”, set in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 1600s, explores morality and a rigid society’s desperate need for preservation during the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Through the successful use of setting, theme and characterisation, Miller enhances the audience’s understanding of the play’s themes and purposes. Miller employs various techniques to introduce the theme of power. The stage directions in Act 1 give clear examples of symbolism, which expands the audience’s understanding of the community:

“There is a narrow window at the left. Through its leaded panes, the morning sunshine streams” (Page 1, stage directions) Light is often associated with truth and so the fact that the window is “narrow” indicates to the audience that the Salem society, more significantly the local Reverend Parris, are intentionally blocking out the light and allowing what they perceive as the truth to enter. This foreshadows the injustice of their court and the maltreatment of their power. This misuse of power is demonstrated in act 4 as the judges of the trials believe they obtain their authority from God, and so regard the witch trials as a holy mission: “While I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering.” (Act 4.p103)

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Mr Danforth, the Deputy-Governor, is representative of the misuse of power. As a man of Law and God, traditionally he should represent justice. It is in this scene that the audience appreciates that the power and authority of an incompetent, unjust court have corrupted Danforth to the point where the public perception of himself is more important than the truth of the girls’ deception. Act 1, Scene 1 provides a highly significant aspect of the structure. It is this scene that informs the audience of the “unseen events” which took place in the woods: “We did dance…there’s the whole of it…we never conjured spirits.” (Act 1.1.p.7)

Abigail openly admits to her uncle that there was no witchcraft involved. This allows the audience to learn what had actually happened in the woods before the hysteria and superstition of the community had distorted the truth. This occurs before the figures of authority are presented in the play, therefore giving us a clear view of the extent of the hysteria and power. The themes of manipulation and control are implemented in act 1, Scene 2 while revealing important aspects of Abigail Williams’ character. Abigail- Parris’ niece- had been dancing in the woods with other girls, and later intimidates them to silence: “… I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you.” (Act 1.2.p15)

This demonstrates Abigail’s capability to control and influence the girls. She later uses the accusations of witchcraft for her own purposes and personal vendettas and encourages the girls to do so. Act 2 witnesses Abigail and the girls’ power and control over the entire Salem community. Abigail has exerted power from her accusations and with this control, she becomes infallible in the eyes of the court: “Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God’s fingers?” (Act 2.p.63) The protagonist of the play, John Proctor has had a past affair with Abigail, knows the motives behind these trials are anything but “holy”. John realises Abigail wants him back and is using her newly found power to her own intentions while giving the audience an insight into the nature of the corrupt court as the girls’ motivation is never questioned.

Act 1 introduces Reverend Hale, an intellectual and specialist of the unnatural. He is a visiting minister invited to Salem to investigate signs of the devil: “We cannot look to superstition… the devil is precise; the marks of his presence are as definite as stone.” (Act1.p.31) As Salem is a small, harsh community, the inhabitants are naturally paranoid and superstitious of anything they perceive as abnormal. Hale represents hope for the audience, as he ought to discover the truth behind the girls’ actions. His authority and status in the town as a respected minister gives him the power to – if he discovers no marks of the Devil – end the witch trials before they begin. “Pontius Pilate! God will not let you wash your hands of this!” (Act 2.p.63)

Hale sees the injustice of this and still, he allows it, just as Pilate had done when he authorized the crucifixion of Christ. John perceives Hale as a broken and incompetent minister. Here, the audience’s faith in Hale deteriorates, he had the power to prevent these events from happening and didn’t. “The Crucible”, by Arthur Miller, employs various devices to enhance the audience’s comprehension of the theme of power, which is prominent throughout the play. Miller introduces this theme through theme, setting and characterisation, which are explored and developed in the following acts. The theme of power and its mistreatment illustrates to the audience how crucial conformity and order is to a rigid society such as Salem and how power in the hands of the wrong people can lead to

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Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" Essay. (2021, Apr 15). Retrieved May 5, 2021, from