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“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller Literary Analysis

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“The Crucible” was written by Arthur Miller in the early 1950’s and was first published in England in 1956. “The Crucible” is essentially an allegory. An allegory telling a story on the surface through an American play while conveying another sub plot. He was comparing the witch-hunt trials in Salem of 1692 to the hunting of communists in the 1950’s.

Arthur Miller uses the typical convections of a four act play. Miller uses this structure to create tension from the various plots of each act. In act one the exposition is introduced to set the scene and the inciting moment is usually put forward. The second act includes the rise of the action to form the build up of tension after the previous act has provided the atmosphere of the play. In act three the climax would have reached at the peak of tension, which is normally the “crisis point”.

Act four ends the play with a resolution to sum up. I think that Miller adapts “The Crucible” to this structure successfully. Act one sets the scene well through stage directions and the witchcraft is witnessed instantly which gives the audience an insight of the main theme of the play. The tension builds up during act two as it reveals John Proctor had an affair with Abigail Williams. Elizabeth Proctor gets accused of witchcraft, which affects the audience in the way that they feel empathy for the Proctors and understand that what’s at stake really has risen.

John Proctor is introduced as the main protagonist in the exposition of act one. The playwright describes Proctor as having a “hidden force” and “quiet confidence” to show that his role will become more and more important as the tension builds up. Miller shows the audience that Proctor is the protagonist as he describes him as a man in “his prime” through his confident and influential entrance as he affects other characters of the scene. Miller introduces a sin on Proctor to establish the crisis and is effective, as it will prove to have an impact on other characters as well. The dark and claustrophobic setting in Reverend Parris’ house is another dramatic device Arthur Miller uses. This could be reflecting future events and thoughts of characters such as Judge Danforth and Parris himself.

“A small upper bedroom” portrays this setting of the first act. The heightened opening emotions of Parris as he shouts at Tituba, “Out of here”. Parris wants to get rid of his Caribbean slave. This makes the audience believe that Parris has strong feelings for his daughter when in fact it’s more of a self interest as is revealed later on throughout the play. The first entrance of Abigail is into the cramped bedroom where Parris is kneeling at his daughter’s bedside. The first impressions of her are as a “strikingly beautiful girl” which is an image the audience will not forget and will soon realise why Proctor fell for her. She is also described as someone who has “endless capacity of disassembling”. These choices of words another way of stating the manipulation of someone which Abigail has already done at the time.

Miller opens the first act with the “quiet” and “small” upper bedroom and ends with the heightening hysteria of the girls. This is a very effective juxtaposition as this works well with the rapid introduction of the characters. This keeps the audience hooked as the tension builds up. The inciting moment comes through all the accusations being thrown around in the small room. I believe that this is a significant choice miller has made. The small room suggests that the accusations take place with more force as if they are bouncing and echoing of the walls of the small room. “I saw Goody Booth with the Devil!”, this adds to the power of the final accusation. Act one establishes a good understanding of the characters involved in the scenes. The audience can relate to the way the characters of Salem feel, which adds to the dramatic impact of the play due to their personal involvement.

Miller starts to increase the dramatic tension in Act Two. He uses several techniques to add to the sense of drama in act two. One of these devices is to juxtapose the hysterical ending of act one with the calm and measured scene at the opening of act two. The effect of this is it makes the audience believe that the hysteria is over when but when in reality there is more to follow. Another dramatic device the playwright utilises is the changing of perspective and the contrasting settings from one act to another.

Miller accomplishes this particularly well in act two. A sense of mystery and confusion is put onto the audience as they try to get a grip on the different atmosphere of the setting. He uses characters entrances to create a quick pace making the audience hooked as they try to keep with the fast rate of interacting. A steady build up of tension is formed in the opening scene and throughout as entrances and exits are made are made followed up by questioning. “FRANCAIS NURSE enters”, “Enter EZEKIEL CHEEVER”, “Enter MARSHALL HERRICK”. As an increasing amount of people fill up the once quiet room the tension starts to accumulate more quickly.

But, the first questioning of the act is started up by Elizabeth. She has suspicious questions waiting for Proctor when he as he arrives back late. Their unstable relationship is like a type of trial. A trial about forgiveness and trust. Elizabeth feels threatened by Abigail’s dominance over the court, her husband and potentially Salem. Their uneasy conversation is shown through awkward silences and pauses. These show to the audience the tension and uncertain anxiety, which is trying to be hidden. Another sign of mistrust is when Proctor responds to Elizabeth’s questioning his honesty. He says, “Let you look sometimes for the goodness in me, and judge met not”. This is significant as he does not like his wife judging him but, in the near future of the play, Proctor will have to face his responsibilities as he is legally judged in the upcoming trials.

The contrasting settings of Parris’ home and the Proctors home, which portrays a calm and quiet room. This juxtaposition of hysteria and relaxing environments gives a heightening effect on the audience. As Miller has completely escalated the confusion and frenzy it immediately changes to a quiet scene. The effect on the audience is they really feel the silence as it juxtaposes with the previous act. This dramatic effect holds the audience’s concentration making the questions a lot more powerful and effective. The dim lighting suggests that nothing is in the “spotlight”. The “darkness” adds to the sense of tension as the audience get the feeling something is trying to stay concealed. The fact the room is “long” shows that the relationship is slightly uneasy. Making the two characters further apart has the effect on the audience, which makes them realize that there is not much trust between them.

In a typical dramatic structure of a Four Act play there would be the climax or crisis point. I do believe that in Act Three there is the most tension between the characters. Arthur Miller uses several dramatic techniques to create a sense of climax. One of the most effective devices the playwright uses is the juxtaposition of tension and relief. At the Vestry room of the Salem Meeting House Judge Hathorne is questioning Martha Correy lightly. Again, the rapid entrances and interaction between characters aids the long build up of suspense. The beginning of the rise in tension is where Giles shouts “I have evidence for the court” with a “roaring” voice as shown in stage directions. “Voices of townspeople rise in excitement” is shown through stage directions.

The sudden uproar is effective as it is unexpected so the audience are on their toes. The beginning of this act also has a quick pace to add to this sense which may make the audience feel as if matter are getting out of hand. The interaction of characters I think is Millers greatest achievement regarding the creation of tension. This helps convey to the audience the shift of power between characters and what is at stake because of it. Powerful expressions are shown through stage directions to advise the Actors on how they should express their emotions towards the audience. Quick and paced speeches at the opening of the act reinforce the build up of tension and at the end they become longer and more dramatic. This is especially effective, as the audience understands the character’s desperation, which contributes to the dramatic context of the play.

All the characters involved in the witch trials have many things to lose. For most of them it’s either their lives or their reputation. The Proctors are in a desperate situation, which is becoming more and more hopeless. The audience empathise for them because they never seem to be in power in court. The characters react differently loss of security and faith, their behaviour may be different to what the audience would expect of them. Their reactions reinforce the tension as expectations diminish and the characters emotions empathised by the audience. This makes them realize the characters are in a difficult position.

The shift of power is mainly between Abigail, Mary, Proctor and Danforth. The shift of power alters the way the characters act that is also influenced by others as well. This makes the audience feel the tension building up. Arthur Miller uses dramatic irony in act three. “Elizabeth, I have confessed”, this is where Elizabeth doesn’t know that Proctor has confessed. This is one of Miller’s most powerful techniques. Contrasting reality between expectations as the audience realize the importance of the knowledge they are in possession of.

This technique is effective; as the audience would feel the urge to wanting to of find out how Elizabeth reacts to what she doesn’t know. Miller applies language effectively in this act. He manipulates emotions through rhetorical and emotional language. Unfamiliar use of double negatives such as “I don’t compact with no devil”. Another language feature he uses is the second person perspective like “Be you foolish”. Many other features are also used which provoke strong, unforgettable images into the minds of the audience. The language of the play including the stage directions provides a vital aspect throughout the play.

Act Four is typically used as the resolution to resolve the conflicts of a play. I do not believe that Act Four is as dramatic as act three. The characters have changed since. The Proctors relationship has dramatically changed since act two. In act one the Proctors lived an uneasy and tense relationship. But in act four they are more trusting of each other and will share their true thoughts. They slow down the speed of their conversations dramatically, “She will not – pause”. This conveys to the audience that their relationship is still slightly tense as they the two Proctor’s try to grasp a solution. Their cooperation makes them calmer and it tells the audience that they are calmer in each other’s company. There calmness also adds a sense of resolution as if everything is going to all right.

The character interaction has also changed due to what is at stake. Parris feels as if he is being threatened, “Excellency, I would prospone the hangins’ for a time”. He then tries to reduce the executions. But this is still a matter of self-interest. These considerations of selfishness lead to Danforth and Parris to beg a confession from Proctor. This progressed onto a signed confession. The effect that Miller is trying to produce is a sensation of false relief. John Proctor has developed throughout the play, as he has to overcome his conflicts. In the end Proctor is begged to confess. His refusal to give a false confession is a true religious and personal stand. Proctor can be considered a martyr by the audience he has had the chance to save his life yet he chooses justice.

I personally agree that act three is the dramatic climax of “The Crucible”. I believe this because I think Arthur Miller does follow the typical convection of a four-act play. He uses act four as a resolution of conflict because John Proctors sins have been washed away religiously by justice. Abigail, the source of the main conflict, has disappeared which could be interpreted as the problem has too. I also consider the title has major role to play regarding Proctor. A Crucible is a container, which heats up a metal to extract the pure metal and remove impurities. This is why I believe the execution in act four is not the climax of the play. Proctor being executed could reflect that he has been in a crucible and put through a tremendous amount of pressure and his sins have been removed and his pure self has been extracted.

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