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The Crucible - Themes
N.B. Also plagiarised from Mrs Rutherford's notes!
Arthur Miller has several themes which appear in his dramatic works. Some of these which feature in "The Crucible" are:
Individual Against Society
The theme of the individual against society is central to the play. Throughout we find evidence of the pressures on individuals to conform to what society expects from them. For example: girls are not allowed to dance, books other than the Bible are frowned upon, John Proctor is distrusted by many because he does not go to church regularly. This last example is taken very seriously because the society that Proctor lives in is built on religious principles. Anyone choosing to stray from going to church could be seen as rejecting religion and in doing so would also be rejecting and finding fault with the society that they lived in. This theme is then conveyed through the character of John Proctor. He realises he will have to take a stand against society in order to be true to himself. During the play John Proctor is called on to denounce his own wife, his friends and finally himself. He is put through an ordeal by conscience, eventually accepting his own death rather than make a false confession.
This theme is also conveyed through the setting and plot. Set in the small, tight knit community of Salem, the play's setting provides an appropriately claustraphobic atmosphere for the events that take place. The world of Salem is enclosed by strict moral and religious codes which inevitably encourage the growth of hypocrisy and the abuse of power. The confined setting of the play effectively reinforces the trapped emotional state of the principle characters.
A theme strongly linked with that of the indivdual and society. The characters of Elizabeth and John Proctor are both very strong but flawed individuals who have come to terms with their own weaknesses. Each is put to the test as is their marriage which survives despite, or perhaps, because of, what each has to suffer. The play charts the growth in self-knowledge of both these characters and explores the nature of their guilt, their pain, and above all their moral courage, in facing up to the consequences of their actions. In the end they both come through the "crucible" purified. Proctor goes to his death with the self-knowledge that he has acted with integrity and that his name/the essence of himself is still in tact.
This setting in Salem and the use of witch trials creates a situation where we can understand why people believed that the only safeguard against evil was laws that forced people to conform. There was no room for individuality from Salem. Danforth represents the law and is determined to stick to his idea of the law whatever the cost, even if it will cause injustice - evidenced by "But you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted afainst it. There will be no road between".
In the second half of Act 4, Miller shows us how Elizabeth, Danforth, Hale and Parris all have a different view of justice and what the truth really is. He expects us to accept that Elizabeth's version of "the truth" is the more acceptable. There is much talk of judging people in the play, as well as a scene in which professional judges conduct their business according to the law; Elizabeth tells John in Act 4 that she cannot judge him and that "there be no higher judge under Heaven than Proctor is". The message this gives is that we are the best judge of ourselves and that we should not judge others.
Religion/Hostility to Ideology and Theocracy
The play is set in a theocracy, a religious community, and yet there seems to be controversy about what God expects of people. The church (which controls all life in Salem and which forbids joy and happiness and any kind of innocent pleasure) means different things to characters such as Danforth, Hale, John and Elizabeth Proctor. For John Proctor it seems to be a place of corruption, where money is spent needlessly on candlesticks and too much time is spent on discussing "Hell".
The theme of "hostility" to the theocracy is conveyed at the level of plot. It is also conveyed through character, with Parris obviously an Establishment man with nothing but contempt for his parishioners, and Proctor, a man willing to stand up to the Establishment and question it.
This theme is shown through the characters of Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail denounces Elizabeth as a witch because of her jealousy and desire to become Proctor's wife. Elizabeth in her jealousy of Proctor and Abigail's relationship strains her marriage nearly to breaking point as can be seen in the opening "scene" to Act 2. This theme stands against that of love but both play their part in strengthening John Proctor. Somehow he emerges from his battle with Abigail in Act 3 as a stronger, better husband and his relationship with Elizabeth (as seen in Act 4) is more secure than ever.
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