The Crucible Essays
Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible to compare the absurdity of the Salem witch hunts to the McCarthy period and all the people that were being accused of something they were not guilty of. In the McCarthy period, there were groups dedicated to conduct a ‘witch hunt’ throughout the US in order to minimize communist influence in the country. Back to The Crucible, problems begin when Reverend Parris discovers his daughter and niece, Abigail, involved in a witchcraft ritual. Abigail was involved with this because she wished to place a hex on Elizabeth, John Proctor’s wife, in order to kill her. Abigail and Proctor had previously committed adultery, and Abigail was unable to stay with him because of his wife. Salem’s citizens soon begin to turn against each other with accusations of witchcraft for personal gain or to protect themselves from the wrath of others. The story reaches its climax when John Proctor, in court attempting to save his wife, tells Salem that he committed adultery with Abigail Williams. Ultimately Proctor decides to end it all by taking his death sentence, putting an end to all the nonsense. In The Crucible, Arthur Miller uses allusions, similes, and symbolism to create an emphasis on the theme of sin.
Allusions are one of the devices that Miller uses in The Crucible to emphasize the sins taking place within the people of Salem. The first example in Act 2, Hale is investigating the Christianity of the Proctors when Francis Nurse comes in saying his wife, Rebecca Nurse, has been jailed on the accusation of witchcraft for ‘having killed’ Putnam’s babies. To this, John Proctor says, “How may such a woman murder children? “Reverend Hale then replies ‘in great pain’, “Man, remember, until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven.” Mrs. Putnam’s babies have all died except for one, and Rebecca was the one who delivered all of her children. However, Rebecca Nurse is known for having a spotless reputation. Even Reverend Hale knew of her good works before he came. This statement alludes to the story of the archangel Lucifer falling from Heaven into Hell after being God’s best and most beautiful angel. It draws a comparison between Lucifer and Rebecca and how even the best could fall into sin. Rebecca is now suffering from the actions of other people’s sins with the accusations of witchcraft and the possible sentences involved. In Act 2, when Herrick comes to arrest Elizabeth, Proctor says, “Pontius Pilate! God will not let you wash your hands of this!” Herrick comes to arrest Elizabeth based on the accusation of witchcraft from Abigail Williams. Abigail has framed Elizabeth with a voodoo poppet as she wishes to have Elizabeth out of the picture so she may have Proctor for herself. Elizabeth Proctor is another person with a spotless reputation, known as one of the good people of Salem. This is a biblical allusion to the sentencing of Jesus to be crucified. Jesus had a crowd of people against him, wanting nothing short of crucifixion for him. When they brought him before Pontius Pilate to be sentenced, Pilate symbolically washed his hands to say that the blood would not be on his hands and he was not responsible for the actions taken. Because of this, Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. The author uses this allusion to show how Proctor tries to show Herrick that he is committing a sin, but not one he could simply wash their hands clean of which would be the murder of his innocent wife. In Act 3, Proctor is desperately trying to convince Danforth, the judge of ‘witch trials’, that not only Elizabeth but lots of the women accused of witchcraft are innocent. Proctor mentions that all of the women have had an upstanding reputation, to which Danforth says, “…you should surely know that Cain were an upright man, and yet he did kill Abel.” Danforth is following along with the majority of Salem who have fallen into a hysteria over the witchcraft accusations. This is an allusion to the bible story of Cain and Abel involving the first two children of Adam and Eve. Cain felt as though Abel was favored by God and so he killed him. The comparison comes from the fact that Cain was a good child of God up until he murdered his brother. This brings the deeper meaning that no one is immune to sin, no matter how good they are which is what point Danforth is trying to push to help the case against Elizabeth taking part in witchcraft. Miller’s allusions to the Bible highlight the sin being committed in Salem and how the majority have committed sin, intentionally or not.
Another device used to portray the sin in The Crucible is similes. In Act 1, after everyone leaves Abigail and Proctor alone, they begin to catch up with one another. Abigail quickly changes the topic to how she would like to be with Proctor again and says, “I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever I come near!” As stated before, Proctor and Abigail have committed adultery. Proctor is trying to become a better person and live a better, sin-free life. Abigail on the other hand, is pursuing a life with Proctor who she knows is married. Abigail compares Proctor to a stallion, as she sees him as top-of-the-line or one of the best. This could also be referring to the purpose of a stallion which is breeding, referring to her sexual desire for Proctor and how she wishes to be with him. In Act 2, when Proctor and Elizabeth discuss Mary Warren and her relationship with them, Elizabeth says, “I forbid her go, and she raises up her chin like the daughter of a prince and…” Mary Warren is the servant to John Proctor and Elizabeth. Mary has been put onto a council in the court for the witchcraft trials. Her arrogance could be attributed to this as she now feels as though she is in a higher class than what she really is. Elizabeth says this to compare Mary Warren to the daughter of a prince in her mannerisms. There is a stereotype of the children of royals not following orders from anyone not even their parents at times. In this way, Elizabeth is actually referring to the sin of disobeying/dishonoring your mother or father, herself and Proctor being the ‘parents’ to Mary. In Act 2, when Cheever presents a warrant for Elizabeth’s arrest, Proctor rips it up and Hale says to Proctor, “Proctor, if she is innocent, the court-” to which Proctor replies, “If she is innocent? Why do you never wonder if Parris be innocent or Abigail? Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God’s fingers?” Proctor is fighting to save his wife, Elizabeth, from the accusations made by Abigail. As stated before, Abigail wants Proctor for herself, so she is trying to get rid of Elizabeth. Reverend Parris is one of the people who are backing up what Abigail says to protect his own reputation from accusations or suspicions as he has already had a rough reception from the community. Proctor sarcastically asks if two people, Parris and Abigail, with questionable reputations in his eyes could be as clean as the hands of God, a comparison showing that they are clearly not so innocent themselves and are in no place to judge. This further pushes the theme of sin and how the accusers are sinners rather than the accused.
Symbolism is another literary device used in The Crucible. In Act 2, while Hale is investigating the Proctors’ Christianity and Francis comes in hearing of his wife’s imprisonment, Reverend Hale says, “…if Rebecca Nurse be tainted, then nothing’s left to stop the whole green world from burning.” Rebecca has a spotless reputation, and Reverend Hale knows it. Thus, saying this he knows if she could be convicted, anyone can. Reverend Hale refers to a ‘green world’. Green meaning life, so Hale is saying that in a sense, if Rebecca Nurse, a person known for her kindly acts, is not safe, the world is not either. He also refers to what they are not safe from when he says ‘burning’. Burning anything results in the complete destruction or consumption of said object being burnt. He is saying that the world could be consumed by this burning, this sin of what he believes to be witchcraft. Really, the sin is bearing of false witness, and the majority of Salem is participating in it. In Act 2, a poppet is found in the Proctor household. This poppet was left by Mary Warren, however, no one believes Mary and so it is used as evidence against Elizabeth in her case of witchcraft. Mary Warren sewed the doll in court during one of the previous trials. Abigail observed her doing so and noticed Mary left a needle in the stomach of the poppet for safekeeping. Abigail then sets up a situation in which it would seem as though the poppet were used for witchcraft against her, faking a pain to her stomach during dinner. Her plan works as the poppet ends up in the possession of Elizabeth and there is ‘sufficient’ evidence to arrest her. The poppet symbolizes the sin of bearing false witness. The simple poppet was supposed to be nothing more than a passing of the time for Mary, however, Abigail used it in order to fabricate a lie to further push her own agenda of being rid of Elizabeth Proctor.
Throughout the text, Miller uses allusions, similes, and symbolism to shine a light on the theme of sin. Miller portrays sin in many forms throughout the play. He shows how people are willing to commit sin in many different scenarios, whether it be to save themselves or for personal gain. Miller wants the reader to know that this is not only a reality of Salem, but of our world.
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