Analysis of "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller

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“The Crucible” [1996] by Arthur Miller and Bob Miller

 [Article copyrighted © Patty Inglish, MS 2007]

  • Based on a screenplay by Arthur Miller from his 1953 play and 1967 film.
  • United States film release by FOX, 1996
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for mature themes and brief nudity)
  • Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Joan Allen, Paul Scofield, Rob Campbell, Karron Graves, Bruce Davison, Mary Pat Gleason, Peter Vaughan.
  • Directed by Nicholas Hytner.
  • Produced by Bob Miller (son of Arthur Miller) and David V. Picker

 

ARTHUR MILLER'S BACKGROUND

 

Arthur Miller grew up the son of New York Jewish immigrants and witnessed both scenes from the Jewish Holocaust and the Cold War. Mr. Miller wrote his play The Crucible to protest the abusive politics of McCarthyism during the Cold War in the United States. Never a supporter of Communism, he clearly remembered the Great Depression and its related social issues. However, he did not see Marxism as the cure for fascism, because of the severe and prolonged Soviet persecution of artists like himself. Any artist, musician, writer, or singer that did not follow the Soviet line and Soviet rules of the arts was shunned.

In the early 1950s, small-time Wisconsin politician Joseph McCarthy placed himself at the head of the crusade for American democracy. He did this for personal fame and he did it with his House on Un-American Activities Committee. From his platform, McCarthy accused artists and writers in the US of Communist affiliations. With help of radio and newspaper columnists like Hedda Hopper, he successfully blacklisted several artists form gaining any type of substantial work. Others were threatened and eventually changed their political party from Communist, Socialist, or even Democrat to Republican, so fearful were they to be categorized anywhere left of center. Still, many lost their livelihoods during the McCarthy Inquisition, fired at a mere suggestion of knowing Communists. Miller himself was called to testify before McCarthy's group in the mid-1950s after writing his play in 1953.

Arthur Miller used his writing techniques in The Crucible as a play, a 1967 film, and a 1996 remake produced by his son Bob, against these injustices. The Millers compared the US injustices toward "suspected Communists" with the Salem Witch Trials. The only difference was that McCarthy burned books, rather than witches.

The Crucible is set in 1692 Salem Massachusetts in the play and on film, where Puritanism interferes in the lives of individuals and its repressiveness reigns as it did in 1950s America. A theocracy is an analogy for the 1950s government administration and the Cold War, and for today's Democrats, and such US 21st century movements as the hunt for the Axis of Evil.

The Story Line and Implications

SUMMARY

Hard work and church activities are the only activities in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and land disputes arise over boundaries and deeds. Anger and resentments boil and a target is sought. It is found as witchcraft phobia begins, splitting Salem into citizens using witch hunts for selfish gains and those wanting to cleanse society.

Act I

Reverend Samuel Parris (Bruce Davison) discovers his daughter Betty (Rachael Bella) dancing naked with a dead chicken in the woods with other girls and his Barbados slave Tituba (Charlayne Woodard) near home. They are attempting to use a love potion to attract village boys. Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder), an orphan who witnessed her parents' murder by Indians is also in the household. Incensed with anger and frightened, Parris calls Reverend Hale (Rob Campbell) to hunt witches, which he finds in Abigail and Betty, because of the Indians Abigail saw and because of Betty's dead chicken. We see among various characters the petty, small-minded Putnams (like the McCarthy committee), the scholarly Hale, and an adulterer - This is protagonist John Proctor (Daniel Day Lewis) who fornicates with savage Abigail. Abigail is a manipulator behind the love potions, trying to get rid of Proctor's wife, but setting in motion the witch hunts, instead.

This 1996 version more strongly highlights the manipulation and the sense of power that Abigail feels and that the authorities (Paul Scofield and others) feel in selecting witches for execution, than the original play and 1967 film versions.

Act II

Proctor tries defending truth at his home when he and Mrs. Proctor argue about whether he should stand against his adulterous partner, Abigail. The adultery has practically destroyed the Proctor's marriage. When the Salem court arrives to arrest another character, Elizabeth, for witchcraft, Proctor sees a need for action.

Act III

In a meeting room/court, Proctor and other citizens oppose the court and are attacked by people with selfish interests in the trials. Giles Corey and Francis Nurse protest the trials and are arrested. Proctor confesses his adultery, which was covered by the hysteria of massive, obsessive witch hunting. However, the court does not believe his confession and goes on finding witches and finding them guilty. Many die by burning or in prison. Abigail pretends that another young woman, Mary (Karron Graves), sent out her spirit to attack her and causes Mary, who had encouraged Proctor and believed his story, to renounce her own testimony. Mary accuses Proctor in order to protect herself and Proctor is then arrested. A revolted Judge Hale (Scofield) quits the trial and simply abandons the court to its own devises.

Act IV

In jail, John Proctor chooses between life and death by signing his confession. He will be executed. Realizing it will be used against others as well; he rips the document into pieces and sentences himself to death in order to save the others. His action cleanses and restores him to goodness and self-sacrifice seems the only means to restore the balance of this society. He hopes the furor will end with his death.

Charlie Chaplin - Evicted From the USA by the Witch Hunts

Joseph McCarthy, 1950s
Joseph McCarthy, 1950s

Miller Interview with Charlie Rose

Meanings and Importance

THEMES

Major Themes: conformity and good versus evil.

The individual and society must deal with the threat of evils within the law, power, and social issues. The need to conform to the church's views is overwhelming. Characters must forsake their faith or lie that they interacted with Satan. They must conform or follow their own code. Is it more important to conform to policy or to vocalize personal views and be eliminated? Is a person doomed if they don't live by the rules of the Church or is dissent allowable?

Minor Theme: hysteria and cleansing

Hysteria can cover greed, adultery and the bad behaviors caused by too much or not enough work in a repressive society.

Salem is recalled when thinking about McCarthyism in a repressed and oppressive 1950s. Employees were told to spy on coworkers and neighbors and report anyone who might be a communist sympathizer. Sympathizers had to be cleansed from society. It was free publicity for McCarthy, covered up by national hysteria. Ultimately, the Communist witch hunts ended in failure, but many lives were ruined. McCarthy's political aspirations were, however, at an end.

CONCLUSIONS

Arthur Miller addressed issues that still exist today. We face the option of nonconformity. People who define the systems in which we live still exist, as do the accusers of minorities. The House Un-American Activities Committee tried to "cleanse" America, just as Salem tried to cleanse itself of witches.

In the 21st century, terrorists and anybody that remotely knows one "must be cleansed from America." Perhaps this is a witch hunt and perhaps there will always be witch hunts. Perhaps they are poor attempts at unifying a nation. What do they cover in each generation and who will speak out against them in the future?

ARTHUR MILLER QUOTE:

Well, all the plays (and screenplays) that I was trying to write were plays that would grab an audience by the throat and not release them, rather than presenting an emotion which you could observe and walk away from.

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Comments 13 comments

adventure profile image

adventure 8 years ago from U.S.A.

I once read that there may have been an outbreak of Lyme's disease in Salem back at the time of the witch trials, and this could have contributed to the insanity. The one line I disagree with is in the "conclusion" section. Terrorists should be cleansed from America. Terrorists are bad. Did I miss something?


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

That is a comment attributed to the radical right - that anyone that knows anyone that could be a terrorist must be dealt with. That's the purpose of the quotation marks.

Interestingly, a friends mother had taught English to two of the hijackers that flew planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11. I don't think she ever forgave herself, but I think she had no way of knowing. It was simply a regular ESOL class.


Alejandra 7 years ago

Hi

Of whom it is the illustration?


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Illustration at the top portrays character from the story - one of the young women that may be a "witch" and very likely Reverend Hale.


Alejandra 7 years ago

who is the author? illustrator


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Are you doing a paper for school? - I'm not going to do it for you. The title is very clear. The illustrator is available on the Internet.


jay 5 years ago

What are Arthur Miller's feelings implied in the play, "The Crucible"?


just me 4 years ago

the crucible is a great play that combines many social and personal cnflicts


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

That is certainly true; U re-read it every couple of years and find it always applicable.


genesis 4 years ago

i love crucible is so interesting


brittany 4 years ago

I'm doing a powerpoint/keynote presentation for my english class and I just love the information you provided me with for my project. It help a lot. =]


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Glad you like the info, but don't copy anything without my written permission. Thanks.


Ian Hampton 3 years ago

The Crucible was very interesting. This is a good resource page.

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