The possibility of hope in “The Crucible”
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No matter how bleak they seem, all plays end in hope. Discuss how true this statement is of a non-Shakespearean play you have studied.
What is hope? To place one’s confidence in the belief that something better will be obtained. “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller is a play in which many innocent characters die. Although the main message of the play is the restoration of hope to the village of Salem in the 17th century, it leaves us with many questions of how much hope we should place in our own society.
The outcome of the play did not end in hope for many characters. As accusations permeated through the village, many innocent were falsely accused and condemned. Even the most ‘godly’ characters were killed such as Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey. Reverend Hale lost his hope in the law of the Puritan society. At first he arrives in Salem projecting an air of knowledge and faith in the law. “They must be; they are weighted with authority.” “Theology sir is a fortress.” As he observes the hangings on innocent people he loses his faith in the justice system and this causes him to turn against what he has believed in. “I denounce theses proceedings, I quit this court.” The play has a bleak outcome, with the audience losing hope in human nature. It shows us that in difficult situations, good does not always prevail. Proctor’s sons would’ve also lost faith in the justice system and the justice and morality of society as a result of human error and negligence. We can never fully place our hope in the justice of human society because it will eventually fail us.
The protagonist and perhaps the most significant character, John Proctor had the bleakest situation with little hope. His affair with Abigail was a cause for her rampage and destruction of the village. Admitting his sins was the only way to prevent further chaos. “I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. Not enough to weave a banner with, but white enough to keep it from such dogs.” This shows he did not have a positive outlook on his death (“not enough to weave a banner with”), as he does not believe he has been fully purified of his sins. Proctor’s outlook was bleak and yet his hope lay in death. How can death entail hope? “The hero, instead of being representative of his society, stands out against it and dies because he is not sufficiently separated from values that endure.”
Ronald Hayman. It shows us that intellect and human will are powerless to prevent injustice when our society, in reality, is not built equality. The reality is that the world is an unfair place. The legally innocent do not always survive. There is a glimmer of hope that the sacrifice of one man would save the inhabitants of Salem from future destruction. However, this is false hope as the reality of human nature is that the same events will occur but in other forms and places in the future. Human nature dictates this as we live in an imperfect world. “I think it’s a mistake to ever look for hope outside of one’s self.” Arthur Miller. Miller is saying that the world is unfair. We should not place our hope in it.
The setting in itself is a damning factor for the inhabitants of Salem and for hope. The Crucible took place in Salem, Massachusetts during the 17th century. The fact that it took place during the 17th century is extremely important. The society of this time was gullible and superstitious. The event also occurred in a Puritanical society, which had a particular aversion to witches. The fact that these characters live in this time eliminates the possibility of hope for many of the characters. Ann Putnam’s bitter nature from losing her children at birth causes her to suggest witchcraft as the reason for the problems of the village. Also, the fact that she lives in the naive Puritan society causes this suggestion. “There are wheels within wheels in this village and fires within fires.”
One of the young girls, Mary Warren is aware of the workings of their Puritan society and says, “What’ll we do? The village is out! I just come from the farm; the whole country’s talking witchcraft! They’ll be callin’ us witches Abby!” Characters such as Hale will remember the incidents, as many innocent were condemned. These incidents are the deaths of Rebecca Nurse, Giles Corey and Proctor. “There is blood on my head! Can you not see the blood on my head!!” Hale will remember the events of Salem as he had an active part in condemning the innocent. There is hope for those characters who remembered but what chance is there of many remembering far enough into the future to stop the tragedy seen in Salem from happening again?
Believing people will remember the past is idealistic as many injustices, which mirror those of Salem have occurred previously. An example of this was the Inquisition in the middle ages when people who were seen as being slightly different were accused of witchcraft and dealt with harshly to the extent of burning them at the stake. This indicates that people do forget the past. There was little hope in the naive, Puritanical society, which did not remember the past. Therefore, there is little hope for humanity in any setting when we do not remember the past.
“The Crucible” was a play based on the actual events of the Salem community in the 17th Century. The bleak outlook for many of the characters in the play did not change and this play did not end in hope for them. The play reminds the audience of the ugly blemish on human history. It reminds us that society and the individual are not perfect and fair. This play ends with the audience having little faith in humanity, as we are condemned to relive the past in numerous other forms.