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    Exploring Arthur Miller's Salem Witch Trials

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    The Crucible
     Admin  Published On Oct 3, 2023 | Updated on Oct 4, 2023  Essay


    A. Brief overview of the play and its historical context

    Arthur Miller’s play, ‘The Crucible (1953)’, describes some events that happened in contemporary America. He does so by utilizing the historical contexts of the Salem Witch Trials. The Salem Witch trials occurred in the place Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. The trials demonstrate accusations of Anne Putnam, a 12-year-old girl. Putnam claimed to have witnessed several residents of Salem as involved in witchcraft activities. They were doing so to harm the target people. The girl, Putnam said that she feared to be their target as well. Basis of these accusations, an English-American clergyman, Samuel Parris, went for the prosecution of several suspected witches. Of them, nineteen suspected persons were hanged to death and one was left for the death over the following two years.

    Miller’s play makes use of historical events to criticize how facts and realities can be overshadowed by unjustified fears as well as someone's desire to place the blame on someone else from society. This is even though there is no solid evidence to support this. The Crucible is regarded as more of a commentary on McCarthyism as compared to actual trials as it deals with elements of rumor-mongering, false accusations, and manifestations of mass hysteria. McCarthyism was like an identity name given to a movement led by Senator Joe McCarthy as well as his House Committee about Un- American Activities.

    B. Explanation of the central themes and conflicts

    The central themes of the Salem Witch Trials include:

    • Mass hysteria and fear
    • The aftermath consequences of individuals falling into conflict with the authority
    • The undesired consequences unlocked at the intersection of the themes
    • The significance of reputation

    Conflicts in the Crucible, the play portray a kind of external conflict between John Proctor and his wife, Proctor and the Court, and Proctor and Abigail. The internal conflicts of Proctor revolved around morality. This was also noticeably important for the storyline as well as for setting a perfect plot for this play.

    I. Act 1

    1. Setting: Salem, Massachusetts, 1692

    The Crucible is based on the historical events. This is a reflection of the real settings, where the Salem witch trials occurred – Salem, Massachusetts. This is identified to be a little town on the bay of the North coast of Massachusetts, which still exists these days. The real witch trials kicked off in February of 1692. It lasted until the May of 1693. It is a dram and partially a fictional story of the Salem witch trials, which occurred during 1692-93 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Miller has the credit of writing this play in the form of an allegory for McCarthyism. This was written at the time when the United States government did engage in prosecuting people who were found accused of being communalists.

    Tourists and visitors to Salem nowadays can explore several trial-related locales. This ranges from a museum of the trials to the memories of those who were executed. In the time of 1692, the place today regarded as New England was still recognized to be much of an English colony. This was founded around 1630 by Puritans. It was demonstrated in the play that people had come looking for religious liberty after being prosecuted in England. However, according to Arthur Miller, the people of Salem in 1692 were not quite like the dedicated folk, which came to the Mayflower. They were all a part of a place surrounded by confusion and political unrest. These all led to the American Revolution in a period of as much as under 100 years. They seemed to carry a sense of mission and lacked the strength those were for their descendants. Most of them did not even remember the lives their descendants left behind in the form of a highly civilized country. Therefore, they are not in a position to remember anything clearly except for the forbidding presence of their respective daily lives.

    C. Introduction of the main characters:

    1. Reverend Samuel Parris

    Reverend Samuel Parris played the character of the church minister in the town of Salem. The character was portrayed as power-hungry and cold. He is a character widely disliked by the citizens of the town. He is the one who called on Reverend John Hale in the town to facilitate the investigation of the charges of witchcraft. Parris is like a new minister who arrived in the town just three years before the play started. He is both suspicious and paranoid of all around him. He is also seen as fanatical with the substantial gain as well as attempts to use his play position to enhance his self-interest in financial matters. The extreme level of paranoia in Parris has led him to be suspected of witchcraft during the time Abigail as well as the other girls were accused of plenty of citizens being witches of Salem.

    2. John Proctor

    John Proctor is recognized to be one of the most important characters of 'The Crucible'. He in the play is a local farmer as well as husband to Elizabeth Proctor. He at times quite be very stern; however, generally played the character of a gentleman who likes to care about people. His character becomes flawed when he has an affair with a local woman, Abigail Williams. This shows why Williams used to be jealous of the wife of Proctor, Elizabeth. This also gives rise to the play of conflict between the two for love. Proctor had not dared to accept his affair with Abigail because of his hidden so-called pride. He somehow admits that he is having an affair with Abigail, but things have become just more complex. Nevertheless, the time for showing honesty has traveled a long distance.

    3. Abigail Williams

    She is the niece of Reverence Parris. She was shown having a kind of relationship with John Proctor. This is the event about which this whole play is all about and revolves around. She had worked as the servant in the household of Proctor as well as acted as the villain of that play. She believed that the whole town of Sales was occupied with a range of lies, which caused the deaths of exactly nineteen people. She was portrayed as someone wanting revenge on Elizabeth Proctor who was the wife of John Proctor. However, she was very jealous of the wife of John Proctor. She in this play has been demonstrated as a beautiful as well as vivacious teenager who is surrounded by a range of mysteries. Abigail has been shown to have a strong desire for power and attention. These have led her to manipulate other girls as well as create false accusations to ensure she has the most control of the situation.

    4. Elizabeth Proctor

    She played another key character in this play. She had been demonstrated as someone loyal to John Proctor, her husband. She had been demonstrated as being the cold wife of John Proctor. She was a highly moral woman as well as a devotee Christian who has been shown a conscious of her known reputation. Elizabeth had the kind of strength that helped her stand out among the members of the community in Salem. She never shied from doing what she liked most and felt to be ethical, even if such of her actions went against the social norms. Although she was suspected of witchcraft, she never hesitated about her beliefs and principles. She refused to admit to fake testimony during her appearance in court. Her character represents a truth like how powerful the faith can be as well as how crucial it is to safeguard someone's belief despite being under pressure from others.

    5. Reverend John Hale

    Reverend John Hale is the ministerial person from Beverly as well as an expert on witchcraft. He appeared to have played the character of the first act after being asked to report to Salem by Parris to help the community overcome their problem and effectively investigate and deal with the so-called evil, that was supposed to be occurring. He was both a very pious and zealous person who believed strongly in the power and authority of God as well as prayed to find justice. In the earlier phases of the play, Hale was able to find traces of witchcraft as well as the presence of the devil in Salem. However, as time passed, he started to doubt his own established beliefs. At last, he could realize that this whole case of witchcraft was just a fraud and nothing else. The fact that some innocent people were accused for the wrong reasons. One very noteworthy dramatic moment of this play occurs in Act III.

    D. The incident in the forest and the girls' strange behavior

    The incident that took place in the forest is a strange thing and so, is the behavior of the girls. Since the girls were not able to dance within Salem, they were called to retreat into the woods just outside of the town to be able to indulge in physical pleasure activities. Besides, the nude girl running and passing through the woods outside part of Salem just shows how sexually desired were all the inhabitants of Salem. This is a desire that society forces to suppress, but they believe in fulfilling the same. Religion has not forced people to view Salem as the place for the Devil. The wilderness outside of the town is comparable to the wilderness in which Satan is believed to have tempted Jesus. Although this is not possible Jesus succumbed to temptation. Rather, Satan tried hard to embrace his sins. The girls' behavior was strange as they were actively looking for or demanding wilderness just because this is the place where they have no compulsion from society and can exercise what they desire about sex.

    E. Rising tensions and accusations of witchcraft

    Even though the widely respected minister Cotton Mather had warned of the uncertain values of the spectral evidence, his concerns were like went along unheeded and unheard during the infamous Salem witch trials. Increase Mather, who was the president of Harvard College and also the father of Cotton, later joined or collaborated with his son in urging that standards of evidence about witchcraft must be made up for those for different other crimes. This can be concluded as 'it would have been better in comparison to ten suspected witches, which may be escaping as compared to one innocent person to be treated as the victim. While providing public support for such trials, Governor Philips might dissolve the Court of Oyer as well as Terminer in October as well as mandated, which its successor has disregarded for the spectral evidence. Trials continued with increasing intensity till early 1963.

    II. Act 2 

    1. The Proctor household and the strained relationship between John and Elizabeth

    Act II starts in the household of John Proctor just eight days after Betty and Abigail started accusing all individuals of witchcraft. Proctor had returned late after spending his time in the fields and working there. Proctor takes his dinner with his dear wife Elizabeth. Proctor confirms that he will soon be coming to make her pleased. Elizabeth enquires from Proctor if he was late to the dinner because he was busy with some stuff and went to Salem. She informed Proctor that her servant, Mary Warren, had been in Salem throughout the day. Her wife also informs that Mary Warren has been named an official dignity of the court. Proctor came to learn that four magistrates had been recognized to the General Court as well and the Deputy Governor of the Province was serving the role of the judge. The court has sent fourteen people to jail for witchcraft.

    2. Elizabeth's suspicions of John's involvement with Abigail

    Elizabeth is saying that he must be going to Salem to reveal that the story of Abigail is just a fake. Proctor hesitates and then confesses that we were not able to prove what Abigail had said due to the fact they were all alone while talking. Elizabeth then turns upset with Proctor since he does not like to inform her about each moment spent with Abigail. Proctor and Elizabeth indulge in some sort of argument. Proctor is angry rightly because he thinks her wife, Elizabeth, is suspecting him of deceit as well as that he has again resumed his so-called affair with Abigail. Elizabeth is annoyed as she has started believing that Proctor is not entirely honest with her.

    3. The arrival of Reverend Hale and his questioning of the Proctors

    Reverend Hale's belief and faith in the individuals contribute to dividing him. Hales came to Salem to respond to a need. He portrayed the character of a spiritual doctor who was summoned to evaluate the case of Salem. He was given the duty to diagnose witchcraft as if it had existed. He was requested to provide a much-needed cure through conversions or removing the infected citizens of Salem. Hale was demonstrated as someone who devoted himself to his work and faith. He receives motivation in the fact that he wants to follow the right path, has good intentions, and wants to take up his responsibility sincerely. Unfortunately, Hale could not avoid becoming vulnerable to risks and threats. His interest in discovering the witchcraft allowed others, especially Abigail, to deploy him. Hale was behaving like this because he was overwhelmed by the degree of witchcraft upon his arrival in Salem. Even though Hale remained determined to not disclose the matter of witchcraft till he had the evidence to prove it. But the expectations of the inhabitants of Salem forced him to react by their face value and not personally, getting engaged with an extensive investigation process. The audience, on the other hand, should be condemning Hale. He was like Proctor who failed because of his convictions as well as inaccurate judgments. However, later on, Proctor took appropriate measures to rectify his inadequacies.

    4. Mary Warren's involvement and her conflicted loyalties

    Marry Warren has been portrayed as returning to the Proctor house. Proctor is just furious that he has been all day long in Salem. Mary Warren tells him that she will be visiting Salem every single day. This is because she was named the official of the court. Mary Warren presented something to Elizabeth that she made while being in the court. Mary Warren informed Elizabeth about the fact that 39 people were in jail. Goody Osburn will be hanged to death as she did not confess to the witchcraft. Proctor gets angry as he thinks that the court is punishing people without any hard evidence. Mary Warren informed that Elizabeth was also being accused, but she tried defending Elizabeth. The court then decided to dismiss the accusations. Elizabeth was like saying that both Proctor and Abigail wanted to get rid of her. Elizabeth does realize that Abigail is trying hard to take her place as the wife of Proctor. Elizabeth then asks Proctor to speak to Abigail and confirm that there is no chance for her to marry Proctor. This is even if something happens to Elizabeth. Then, both Proctor and Elizabeth get into arguments.

    III. Act 3

    1. The courtroom scene and the trial of the accused witches

    In June 1692, the special Court of Oyer handled proceedings regarding the witches. Terminer was chosen as the court to decide the actions against witches. They both sat in Salem and focused on hearing cases of witchcraft. The court was presided by the Chief Justice, William Stoughton as well as jurors and magistrates. The first person to be tried as a suspect of witches in Salem was Bridget Bishop, who was found guilty and was declared guilty. He was put to hang on June 10. Then, thirteen women as well as five men from varied stations followed her to the place and treated them in the same manner on three consecutive hanging days. All these happened before the court was disbanded by the Governor, William Phipps, in October of the same year. The Superior Court of Judicature which was designed to replace the 'witchcraft' court did not give any room for spectral evidence. This belief that those who were accused of the witches utilized their invisible power to be able to torture others had sealed the fates of those who were tried by the different courts – the Court of Oyer and the Terminer. The new court; however, released those who were waiting for a trial and were pardoned, who in some other ways were awaiting some executions. Eventually, the Salem Witch Trials finally arrived at a close.

    2. John Proctor's attempts to expose Abigail's deceit and save his wife

    Danforth finally summons Abigail as well as the other three girls into the vestry room. It was the same room where Danforth questioned Abigail. She is all about denying the charge of Mary Warren that she is lying as well as incorrectly suspecting Elizabeth Proctor. Danforth was able to learn the girls who danced in the woods. Hathorne questions Mary Warren as well as asks her to not make up to faint. When she failed to do so, he insisted that she was just lying at the time since she was not able to faint the way she had claimed to do before. Danforth even questioned Abigail if she could even have abstracted the spirits. On being asked, Abigail denied it and said that it was not possible by any means. All of a sudden, Abigail and more other girls started claiming that Mary Warren was trying to send them out of their spirit against these girls. Proctor is like calling Abigail a whore as well as telling the court about the very talked about affair. He then tried his hard to defend his wife, Elizabeth, by stating that she never lies and is even not capable of doing so. The court finally decided to summon Elizabeth. When she entered the room, no one was speaking, and she noticed that both Abigail and Proctor had their backs on her. When Danforth asks Elizabeth why she was like had dismissed Abigail, Elizabeth lies to be able to conceal the affair between Abigail and Proctor. Abigail and the other girls again started doing it by accusing Mary Warren who claimed to have been pressurized by Proctor to state that Abigail is all like lying. Danforth then questioned Proctor if he is in a kind of play with the Devil, and finally, placed Proctor under arrest. It was followed by Hale denouncing the accounts as well as vacating the court.

    3. The escalating hysteria and the role of the court officials

    Of all the characters in this play, the one that should be most to blame is Danforth, who is a formidable figure in this play. He was infusing his supremacy in the court to show all the citizens that their lives were in the hands of Danforth. He was like long-suffering countless confessions from those innocent people and declaring those to be handed to death who refused to confess. Danforth lets the town believe in a way that there is no rescue for them if they are found to be convicted. He made sure that there was no power except for him to save people from his actions if they were suspected in the play of the witches.

    4. Proctor's ultimate decision to confess or stand by his principles

    During times of his imprisonment, John Proctor was given a kind of ultimatum that he was left with just two options – either confess to witchcraft or be ready to be hanged. While he was shown originally as intending to confess the sin, something that he was not involved in, he turned like being resolute against it. It was because of the fact he cannot lie, even for good morality and therefore, he had to detriment his character.

    IV. Act 4

    1. The aftermath of the trials and the town's realization of the truth

    After the prisoners were waiting for their turn and trial on charges like practicing witchcraft that were granted pardoned in 1693, the judges and accusers showed no mercy and hardly any consideration for the aftermath impact of the execution of twenty people as well as causing more others to suffer in jails. Instead of accepting what is real, they all started blaming the tricks of Satan. In this way, they tried to free themselves from any sort of guilt. Many others accepted their crimes and said that they were tricked by the Devil.

    2. John Proctor's imprisonment and impending execution

    Proctor was making for himself and giving a final revilement of the Salem Witch Trials in the last demonstration. He was publicly offered a chance to accept their involvement and make a public confession of whatever had happened as well as his guilt and life. He was almost like succumbing and even signing off a written disclosure and confession. His immense hidden pride and the fear of reputational damage in the public compelled him to withhold his sins from reaching the court. However, when this play ended, he was found more concerned with honesty in comparison to public reputation.

    3. Elizabeth's forgiveness and John's internal struggle

    In the middle of Act III, Elizabeth is forced to talk about her husband in court. She was asked to speak up against her husband, revealing all his sins and his affair with Abigail. Instead of doing the same, she reacted to the situation differently. The moment shows her desperately trying to save her husband from any sort of execution. She tried to remain honest while explaining why like Abigail is hating her but also was attempting to be fair with her husband to the possible extent. She loved her husband a lot. She also illustrated clearly why Abigail hated her.

    4. The final tragic events and the play's conclusion

    The Salem Witch Trials, which were not like any trial but more of a play are clear examples of intolerance as well as injustice in American history. These were the extraordinary series of events in 1692 that led to the death of many like 25 innocent women, children, and men. The crisis in Salem, Massachusetts, is hard to explain. Without any solid evidence, the incident or the play took place partly because the community had lived under a kind of threatening fog of suspicion.

    VI. Conclusion

    1. Recap of the central themes and conflicts

    The play The Salem Witch Trials, the play has like examined various themes like mass hysteria, fear, the significance of reputation and holding it for longer, the consequences of an individual coming into a kind of conflict with someone in the authority, the debate between faith and knowledge, and the undesired outcomes that were found at the intersection of all these themes. There are plenty of examples to show these were the central themes in the play. For example, in the false confession by Tituba, she admits to having performed the witchcraft in the hopes of her master's beating ending soon. This is something that urges the girls portrayed in Salem to punish several of the neighboring inhabitants by condemning them all.

    2. Reflection on the historical and social implications of the play

    The context of a play can be both historical and social. The play can be social if it has played its society into action. It is historical if the events demonstrated in the play still affect the current situations. The Salem With Trials consists of both. It has some social implications like people in society tend to hide their sins for their self-interest. It is only when they are told of any punishment for their sins, they accept what is real. Even in this situation, some like to hide their sins and keep following the same till the very end. The witch trials play is historical as it continues to influence visitors going to Salem and other such places. They seem like absorbing the things that happened there in the past.

    3. The enduring relevance of "The Crucible" in contemporary society

    The themes central to the crucible such as mass hysteria and fear are very much relevant to modern society. They are both relevant and significantly important for the people of the 21st century as was in Salem in 1692. The likes of justice, hysteria, empowerment, reputation, and intolerance are all impacting contemporary society. All of these have been the same and common themes for humans throughout human history. People should not spread news without any evidence to prove anything right or wrong. Also, rumors should not be communicated to the public. Once there is enough evidence to support a fact, then, it should be communicated. For example, in modern-day business marketing, fake news about a product or service is communicated to grab customer attention. The characters as showcased in The Crucible are equally important for people living in the 21st century. This is because they can be a source of inspiration and learning for us to learn about people who are around us as well as their reactions in varied social and historical circumstances.

    VII. Write 5 Examples For The Crucible with an Explanation 

    1. One of the examples of a Crucible is the trial or battle that someone encounters. This could be within the others or themselves. John Proctor was portrayed as the character of a wealthy Puritan, which Was shown to have owned a massive amount of property. The character was very popular and quite well-known in the Salem Witch Trials.

    2. The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is a fictional play, which forms its base on the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. It speaks of the story of the Salem village, which becomes haunted in a witch trial. Afterward, the inhabitants of Salem lived in a state of fear and were suspects of witchcraft.

    3. There is an example of feeling remorseful. Hale is a noticeable character of someone who is attempting to right plenty of his wrongs. There is another character trying to redeem himself as well as correcting his past failures John Proctor.

    4. The Crucible is something that can occur anywhere, on and off the job, and even in modern society. Some of these might take the form of reversal such as a death, the loss of a job, and a divorce.

    5. In The Crucible, the mass hysteria that is one of the central themes of this play was seen to have been caused by the accusations of witchcraft in Salem town. The town inhabitants were blamed for witches. They became suspicious, which led to each of them accusing the others of practicing witchcraft. All these resulted in a series of unjustified trials as well as convictions, which caused the death of plenty of innocent inhabitants of Salem. This also included women and children.

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