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“The Crucible” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”

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‘The Crucible’ is a play written by Arthur Miller in which he demonstrates the familiarities of the life he lived in the nineteen-fifties. He communicates through his work to the way people are in his society and what people were like in the seventeenth century. However, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is a prose, written by Harper Lee in the nineteen-sixties in which she illustrates, how racism was acceptable, and injustice was a problem in which everyone faced in the nineteen-thirties. Both of these literally acclaimed works are based on real life events, whether that is the Salem which trials in The Crucible or childhood events in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Looking at both of these works the first thing we see is the title. The word ‘Crucible’ is defined as a container which purifies metals and gets rid of dirt. A court was set up to purify the town and characters in the play were faced with a great test while attempting to cleanse their community. However, whilst purifying, metals go their separate ways and that is what happened in the community. In contrast, in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, the mockingbird symbolises innocence, and Atticus says to his children “it was a sin to kill a mockingbird”. The mockingbird represents the black man who is wrongly charged with rape.

Though, both of these work talk about power, oppression, justice and authority, however, the structure is different. ‘The Crucible’ is a play and Miller doesn’t introduce the characters to the reader instead it’s laden with dialogues. Miller structures ‘The Crucible’ into four acts. There is some off-stage action such as John Proctors affair. However, Lee employs a different style; she introduces the characters as the story goes on. Miller’s style is very simple. He uses simple sentences and sentence structure with a simple vocabulary. While using the simple style, Miller does not take away from the suspense in his plot. The dialogues of his characters are like actual speech. His words are used effectively and do not include anything not necessary to convey the idea. Miller’s speech is formal, yet simple and easy to understand. His language is plain and concise.

There are several cases of imagery and metaphor: “Abigail is there any other cause than you have told me, for your being discharged from Goody Proctor’s service? I have heard it said, and I tell you as I heard it, that she comes so rarely to the church this year for she will not sit so close to something soiled. What signified that remark?” (Miller, A, 2000, Pg. 12) spoken by Reverend Parris. This comment spoken by Parris is more formal than most of the play since it is spoken by a reverend trying to get at some truth. However, this language is still clear and concise. Miller does not rely too much on imagery, but there are few places where he does use it, “sweated like a stallion” is how Abigail describes Proctor and even though it is a simile but it still presents the audience with an image. Miller employs literacy devices of changing words which effectively narrate the play from twentieth century to the seventeenth century.

In contrast, to the language and style Miller uses, in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Lee employs many literary strategies to perfect her prose. Lee’s choice of words is unquestionably the most superficial aspect of her style, and therefore the easiest to begin with. One of the fine examples of Lee’s writing is when Scouts writes, “Jem and I were trotting our orbit…” (Lee, H, 2004, Pg. 69) orbit is used to display how this habit is a day to day thing and this idea is shown very clear. Another place where Lee uses well chosen words is, when scouts after catching a snowflake on her tongue cries “Jem it’s hot” and he explains that it’s not hot but “so cold it burns” (Lee, H, 2004, Pg. 85). The word ecclesiastical was used to describe the county jail, and exodus was used to describe the break during Tom Robinson’s trial. Both of these have religious implication, which accentuated the impression given of the town’s judicial system containing religious currents.

The narrative technique employed in both pieces of work is very different. In The Crucible, the technique is not visible. Actors are used to perform the play and dialogues are spoken. However, in ‘To kill a Mockingbird’, Lee uses first person narrative which is a child. Using a child as a narrator presents an interesting perspective of the issues in the text. The child narrator seems non-threatening and harmless, even humorous despite the serious topic of prejudice. The reader is made to understand more than the narrator throughout the text, and learn more about the text via the use of the narrator’s questioning of serious issues. In ‘The Crucible’ Miller tells us, through stage direction, that the court is being held where as in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Scout tells us.

When the court takes place in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ nobody expects Atticus to defend a black man, a black man is wrong and a white girl is right. A judgement has already been made before the trial has begun and this is very much seen in ‘The Crucible’ too. This clearly shows justice is not dependant on evidence but social status and colour.

When the trial begins in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ evidence begins to show that Robinson is obviously innocent. Heck Tate and Mr. Ewell take the stand in Tom Robinson’s trial, giving further evidence to prove Robinson’s innocence.

Atticus points out that a left-handed man must have beaten Mayella Ewell. He goes on to show that while Mr. Ewell is left-handed, Tom Robinson’s left arm is crippled due to a farming accident. When Mayella Ewell takes the stand, it becomes obvious that her story has many holes in it. However, she starts crying hysterically before Atticus may point many of them out. (Lee, H, 2004). Quite similarly it happens exactly the same way in ‘The Crucible’ when Proctor gets Mary Warren to testify against the girls. When Mary Warren enters the court room, Abigail and the other girls start to scream that she is sending her spirit upon them. Mary then afraid accuses John Proctor of sending his spirit out upon her. (Miller, A, 2000). This shows how evidence is overlooked by those in authority.

Furthermore, those in authority had power and in ‘The Crucible’ Miller shows us how much power a sole individual can have when that person defines the ideologies or beliefs by which we live. During the Salem Witch Trials religion was much more so than now, the answer to what people didn’t understand. So as a result, ministers and priests were extremely powerful because they were the only people that were “qualified” to interpret the rules of their religion. They were considered to be the voice of God. Back in Salem, how could anything have been more powerful than that? Nobody could question the priests because they would then be questioning God. This of course was completely taboo. So a person in such a position of power could say nearly anything they wanted, such as deciding that “cleansing” was needed in Salem. And, as a result, people would listen and it would be done, but not necessarily deemed to be right.

However, in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Religion is not what holds power but class and colour. When Mayella Ewell confronts the men in the courtroom and challenges their honour, she is making it an issue of white against black. It is not a matter of right and wrong, but a matter of trusting the word of a white woman over that of a black man. And rather than seem like “nigger lovers,” they take the side of the Ewells (Harper, L, 2004).

In The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, justice and injustice is portrayed through the characters of John Proctor, Elizabeth Proctor and Abigail Williams. It is also shown through the minor characters of Mary Warren and Mercy Lewis, followers of Abigail Williams, and through Danforth and various townspeople. After Abigail Williams and the girls are discovered dancing in the forest by Reverend Parris, there are rumours of witchcraft among them, when Betty Parris and Ruth Putnam are found “witched”. Once the girls discover this, they become more and more frightened of being accused of witchcraft. Abigail is the first to “admit” to seeing the devil, and all the other girls join in, so the blame will not be placed on them. “I saw Sarah Good with the Devil. I saw Goody Osborne with the Devil. I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil.” And When Mary Warren and John Proctor challenge the court proceedings, by Mary admitting that the information that Abigail and the girls are giving are false, the court is hardly convinced. But later when Mary turns her back and accuses John of witchcraft, the court immediately takes this information aboard, and John is taken away (Miller, A, 2000).

To add further, the members of the court bases its judgements on what they want to hear, resulting in many of the accused, dying in an innocent, unjust manner. It shows the bias of opinions, as it was shown in the court, and how people tend to choose outcomes that suit them. In the end, injustice thrived upon the souls of the community, leaving many innocent people dead. Justice did not prevail, as the heart behind the case; John Proctor preferred to keep his self-respect and integrity, than live a life of lies (Miller, A, 2000). In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ some of the types of injustice confronted in the novel include, racial injustice and religious injustice. The greatest case of injustice involves Tom Robinson who was falsely accused of a crime that he never attempted, nor intended to.

Tom’s views of the actions that lead up to the trail was not believed because of his race. When Tom Robinson takes the stand, the obviously true story comes out. It becomes evident that Mayella Ewell was a very lonely person whose only crime was to kiss a black man. Her father, Bob Ewell, beat and raped her for this crime. Mr. Ewell also forced her to say that Tom Robinson did it, so that he wouldn’t get in trouble. So in ‘The Crucible’ lack of evidence sentenced innocent people to death, however, in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ even though the evidence was there, an innocent was found guilty.

People in both ‘The Crucible’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ have been oppressed. In which the outcome is horrific; innocent people are killed. Proctor is asked to confess to witchcraft. Offered the opportunity to make a public confession of his guilt and live, he almost succumbs, even signing a written confession. His immense pride and fear of public opinion compelled him to withhold his adultery from the court, but by the end of the play he is more concerned with his personal integrity than his public reputation. He still wants to save his name, but for personal and religious, rather than public, reasons Proctor’s refusal to provide a false confession is a true religious and personal stand. Such a confession would dishonour his fellow prisoners, who are brave enough to die as testimony to the truth. Perhaps more relevantly, a false admission would also dishonour him, staining not just his public reputation, but also his soul. By refusing to give up his personal integrity Proctor implicitly proclaims his conviction that such integrity will bring him to heaven. He goes to the gallows redeemed for his earlier sins.

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