The Crucible – Functional Society Cannot Exist Without a Balance in Power
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‘The Crucible’, written in the 1950s by playwright Arthur Miller, is a dramatisation of the Salem witch trials of 1962. Miller wrote the play as an allegory of McCarthyism in American during the 1950s. The play explores the notion that a functional society cannot exist without a balance in power. Miller’s positioning of Abigail, Reverend Parris and Reverend Hale, invite the reader to see their actions as an abuse of power, particularly to serve their own self-interest.
Abigail is a previously marginalised character who, as a woman, occupies the lowest rung of male-dominated Salem. She uses her newfound power to deflect attention from her own sins and scheme her way into John Proctor’s arms. In Act 1, Abigail “confesses” to consorting with the Devil, which, according to the theology of Salem, means that she is redeemed and free from guilt. Then, as the next step in absolving herself of sin, she dramatically accuses others of being witches – ‘I saw Sarah Good with the devil…I saw Goody Osburn with the devil…I saw Bridget Bishop with the devil’ (pg49).
These accusations shifted the burden of shame from her shoulders to those she named. Abigail’s accusations enable Parris, Hale and Putnam to perceive her as valuable, truthful character sent to Salem by God to help ‘cleanse the village’ (pg48). However, it is evident that Abigail uses Salem’s theocracy to achieve power through accusation and abuse this power to protect her reputation and evade the consequences of her wrong-doing. Furthermore, as Abigail’s power augements, she uses it to frame Elizabeth Proctor of witchery as she believes this will allow her to ‘dance with me (Proctor) on my wife’s grave!’ (pg98). Abigail accuses Elizabeth’s ‘familiar spirit’ (pg 70) of pushing a needle in to her stomach. The Salem community is living in hysteria and paranoia and Abigail’s power enables her accusation to automatically lead to the arrest of Elizabeth. The reader is invited to accept that Abigail is abusing her power to serve her self-interest – deflecting the consequences of her mistakes and once again being with John Proctor.
Parris abuses his power as Reverend to protect his reputation and ministry. In Act 1, when he catches the girls dancing the forest, he fears the trouble the scandal will cause him. He tells Abigail ‘there is a faction that is sworn to drive me from my pulpit (pg19). He tells Abigail once his enemies know his girls ‘trafficked with spirits…they will ruin me’ (pg19). Therefore, once Abigail turns the blame of Tituba, accusing Tituba of sending ‘her spirit on me in church; making me laugh in pray’, Parris promptly furthers the accusation saying ‘she have often laughed in prayer!’ (pg46). The reader is invited to accept that Parris’ support of Abigail’s accusation is not for her welfare, but his reputation. In Act 3, when Proctor brings Mary Warren to confess the accusations were lies, Parris feels the power to have the ability to consistently interrupt the hearing. He desperately tries to undermine Warren’s accusation saying ‘this is a trick to blind the court’ (pg95) and accusing Proctor of ‘blackening my name’ (pg94). Parris’ desperation is highlighted when he perjures himself, telling Danforth he ‘never found any of the girls naked’ (pg94). It is clear to the reader Parris uses his power as Minister to protest against the truth in order to protect his reputation and remain Minister.
Reverend Hale achieves power through his knowledge of witchery and he uses the accusations as an opportunity to better his reputation. On being called to Salem, it is evident he felt proud to be the specialist whose unique knowledge was at last publicly called for. The reader is invited to see that his calling to Salem acted as a comforting validation he was needed. Hale enters Salem in a flurry of activity, carrying large books ‘weighted with authority’ (pg40) and projecting an air of great knowledge. In the early going, he is the force behind the witch trials, probing for confessions and encouraging people to testify. Hale uses his expertise on witches to tempt Tituba to confess to witchery, saying ‘have you enlisted these children for the devil?… Are you gathering souls for the Devil?… When did you compact with the Devil?’ (pg 47). The reader feels Hale’s creation of an intense and excitable atmosphere where he holds the power. Hale’s knowledge of witchery generates his power and he abuses this so he feels like a respected and important authority figure.
‘The Crucible’ play embodies the concept a functional society cannot exist without a balance in power. Characters Abigail, Reverend Parris and Reverend Hale abuse the power they possess to serve their self-interest.