Salem is a small, extremely religious Puritan village in Massachusetts. In 1692 an event known as the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692 took place due to several girls falling victim of seizures and hallucinations. At this time the due to the extremity of religion in people’s lives, frightening or surprising occurrences were often attributed to the devil or his cohorts. In “The Crucible”, Salem is portrayed as a theocracy, so people of the town have no choice but to abide by the rules.
They must worship God, attend church on a regular basis and if this did not happen then you would be on suspicion of being a witch and worshipping the devil. “The Crucible” uses the characters to explore themes, motifs and symbols. There are both positive sides to actions made by the characters which not just affect their lives, but the rest of the town’s lives as well. However the negatives outweigh the positives on this account of the trials, and as real life, there must be consequences for the characters who do not tell the truth.
John Proctor a farmer, with a down to earth “steady manner” is the tragic hero of the play and even though he dies at the end. He made some negative and positive choices before the play begins and during the play, which not just impacted him, but the entire town as well. The event which took place before the play started that Proctor was involved in, is the affair he had with Abigail Williams. This principally causes the events that occur in the play. Proctor is portrayed as a man who lives on a good name, so his public reputation means everything to him.
The reason that Abigail started making accusations at everybody is because when he called off the affair and she was fired by Elizabeth Proctor, Proctor’s wife, jealousy was created and she wanted to get rid of Elizabeth so she could be Proctor’s wife. These are all the negative impacts that affected the town which occurred in chapter one and chapter two. However and the end of chapter two all the way through to the end of the play, we notice a change in Proctor and most of his positive impacts on the town occur in these pages.
Once the trials had begun and hangings were taking place, Proctor realizes that he can reveal Abigail and her followers as frauds, and stop their rampage through Salem; however he can only reveal them through confessing his adultery. This would ruin his good name, and Proctor is a proud man who places great emphasis on his reputation. He attempts to name Abigail as a fraud, eventually, through Mary Warren’s testimony, without revealing any crucial information. However when Abigail again defends herself and accuses others, Proctor calls Abigail a “whore” and then confesses, proclaiming his guilt publicly to the members of the court room.
In spite of his confession, he realizes that it is too late and that he truth cannot break this frenzy. This frenzy does lead to his arrest and conviction as a witch; he is aware of his terrible role in allowing this fervor to grow unchecked. In the final act, Proctor is offered the opportunity to make a public confession of his guilt and live. Proctor almost succumbs to this however he does not and chooses to die with his pride, fear and public opinion compelled him to withhold the truth from the court.
In a readers’ opinion this could be considered selfish, as the only way to save him and encourage others to give their testimonies is to confess, however Proctor does not want his reputation ruined, so that his children may have a reputation. Proctor also does not what his name ruined for the future generations of his family to come. Proctor says in Act IV “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! Not confessing suggests that he is saving his name for personal and religious reasons, rather than public reasons. Such a stand could dishonor his fellow prisoners who are brave enough to testify to die as testimony to the truth; however it implies that testifying may dishonor him staining his reputation and his soul.
Proctor proclaims his conviction that his personal integrity will bring him to heaven, and he is taken off to the hangings redeemed for his earlier sins. It is shown from what Elizabeth respond to Hale’s plea that he publicly confess: “He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him! which is Elizabeth’s way of saying that she forgives him for what he did. Proctor is portrayed as a character whose reputation means everything to him. Of all the major characters Abigail Williams, is most likely the least complex as she has committed no positive impact on the way of life in Salem. It is clear that she is the villain of the play, more so than Parris or Danforth. She is vengeful, malicious and is constantly accusing others to get herself out of trouble. Abigail constantly tells lies, manipulates friends, and the entire town on that point, and sends nineteen innocent people to their death.
Abigail is the hysteria of the town, as when the witch trials are over, it is likely that none of the town members are likely to pull off something like this ever again. All of the events that occur in the town are started of Abigail’s pure jealousy of Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail may seem like a biblical character, a jezebel figure, is driven by the lust for power and sexual desire, which she experienced with John Proctor. This is shown in a conversation she had with Proctor in Act I: – “I look for John Proctor that took me from my sleep and put knowledge in my heart!
I never knew what pretense Salem was, I never knew the lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian women and their covenanted men! And now you bid me tear the light out of my eyes? I will not, I cannot! You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet! ” This shows that the relationship with Abigail is all in the past and there is no way that Proctor is going to do something like this ever again- while he may still be attracted to her, he is desperately trying to put the incident behind him, as he does love his wife.
It is worth pointing out that Abigail is an orphan and an unmarried girl, which doesn’t mitigate her guilt, but does make her actions understandable. However Abigail’s position in the village means that she, along with the rest of her troop, is extremely low on the Puritan Salem social ladder. For the girl in Salem, the minister, and the other male adults are God’s earthly representatives, their authority developed from on high. In the trials, the girls are allowed to act as though they have a direct connection with God, which thus empowers the previously powerless Abigail.
Abigail takes full advantage of this new found clout; however she was once shunned and scorned by the respectable townsfolk who had heard of rumors of the affair. So thus it can change the way the social ladder operates with Abigail and her troop now near the top of this hierarchy, so a mere accusation from Abigail or one of her troop, and the most respectable of townsfolk could become convicted and incarcerated. Another reason that the witch trials could have begun is Abigail plotting her revenge on the entire town for it is obvious that she was miserable.
The instigation of the witch trials could be her opportunity to accuse the inhabitants of the town with the worst sin of all in this time: devil-worship. It is shown in this quote in the book, again from the conversation with Proctor: “I never knew what pretense Salem was, I never knew the lying lessons. . . .” Deputy Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Danforth, is in Miller’s opinion, the true villain of the play as he said thus in an interview for a New York Times article: “… the rule-bearer, the man who always guards the boundaries which, if you insist on breaking through them, have the power to destroy you.
His ‘evil’ is more than personal, it is nearly mythical. He does more evil than he knows how to do; while merely following his nose he guards ignorance, he is man’s limit. ” Danforth is extremely loyal to the rules and regulations of his position. Like John Proctor public opinion and his acute adherence to the law are most important to him. He secretly seems to know that the witch trials are not true but does not want to release any prisoners since he is afraid of being regarded as weak and having his theocratic reputation undermined.
Danforth, in many ways is similar to Abigail; he is a villain and he longs for power, but he also in a sense loves his job. Unlike Abigail he preserves his dignity and stature of the court than in executing justice or behaving with any sense of fairness. He approaches the trials with the upmost loyalty to the law. Proctor defies his authority by refusing to lie and sign a public confession proclaiming his guilt as a witch and accusing others. Outraged at this denial, Danforth sentences Proctor to his death, along with Rebecca Nurse. So like Abigail h has no positive impacts on the lives of the town, only egative ones. The quote below is from Act III in the court room where he is explaining what will happen if anyone over throws the court, which both Giles Corey and John Proctor are threatening here.
“You must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time—we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world. Now, by God’s grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will surely praise it. This statement, given by Danforth in Act III, aptly sums up the attitude of the authorities toward the witch trials. In his own right, Danforth is an honorable man, but, like everyone else in Salem, he sees the world in black and white. Everything and everyone belongs to either God or the Devil. The court and government of Massachusetts, being divinely sanctioned, necessarily belong to God. Thus, anyone who opposes the court’s activities cannot be an honest opponent. In a theocracy, one cannot have honest disagreements because God is infallible.
Since the court is conducting the witch trials, anyone who questions the trials, such as Proctor or Giles Corey, is the court’s enemy. From there, the logic is simple: the court does God’s work, and so an enemy of the court must, necessarily, be a servant of the Devil. It is hard to say whether Reverend Hale causes positive or negative impacts but I would say that he causes some hysteria in the town by encouraging the convicted to sign a public confession to save themselves. Reverend Hale enters the play in Act I when he is summoned by Parris to examine his daughter, Betty.
Miller describes him as “a tight-skinned, eager-eyed intellectual. ” He says this because this is the errand that he loves and he feels a sense of pride being asked to do this. He enters with a flurry, with books and projecting an air of great knowledge. In the early stages he is force behind the witch trials, but this does not last when Danforth joins the picture and demands justice for those accused. Over the course of the play, however, he experiences a transformation, one more remarkable than that of any other character.
Listening to John Proctor and Mary Warren, he becomes convinced that they, not Abigail, are telling the truth. In the climactic scene in the court in Act III, he throws his lot in with those opposing the witch trials. In tragic fashion, his about-face comes too late—the trials are no longer in his hands but rather in those of Danforth and the theocracy, which has no interest in seeing its proceedings exposed as a sham. Hale gains the audience’s sympathy but not its respect, since he lacks the moral fiber of Rebecca Nurse or, as it turns out, John Proctor.
Although Hale recognizes the evil of the witch trials, his response is not defiance but surrender. He insists that survival is the highest good, even if it means accommodating oneself to injustice—something that the truly heroic characters can never accept. Even though the Crucible does not have any type of symbolism, but it can be said that if there was it would be in the form of McCarthyism which is portrayed by Hale, as in Act IV he persuades the member of the town accused to sign a confession.
The play can be seen as symbolic of the paranoia about communism that pervaded America in the 1950’s. Several parallels exist between the House Un-American Activities Committee’s rooting out of suspected communists during this time and the seventeenth-century witch-hunt that Miller depicts in The Crucible, including the narrow-mindedness, excessive zeal, and disregard for the individuals that characterize the government’s effort to stamp out a perceived social ill.
Further, as with the alleged witches of Salem, suspected Communists were encouraged to confess their crimes and to “name names,” identifying others sympathetic to their radical cause. Some have criticized Miller for oversimplifying matters, in that while there were (as far as we know) no actual witches in Salem, there were certainly Communists in 1950s America. However, one can argue that Miller’s concern in The Crucible is not with whether the accused actually are witches, but rather with the unwillingness of the court officials to believe that they are not.