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"Show honor now, show a stony heart and sink them with it.",
This review is from: The Crucible (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
When John Proctor says these words to his wife Elizabeth at the conclusion of this play, he has faced accusations of being in league with the Devil and is ready to face consequences meted out by the religious tribunal he has faced. Though he has sinned by committing adultery with Abigail Williams, he believes the witchcraft trials which have ultimately consumed him to be the result of human, rather than godly, forces. Playwright Arthur Miller sets the scene for this action in an Overture explaining the theocracy which controlled Salem. Powerful clergymen, some more rigid in their interpretations of Scripture than others, "protected" citizens by enforcing conformity with the church's teachings.
Through detailed character sketches inserted into the structure of the play, Miller broadens the realism, and when a group of hysterical young women makes accusations of witchcraft, resulting ultimately in the deaths of nineteen of their fellow-citizens, Miller has prepared his audience to accept the trials and the behavior of the characters as plausible. His straightforward prose, use of homely details, and simple sentence structure (despite its archaic tone) further add to the realism. When the affair between John Proctor and Abigail Williams, who precipitates and then promotes the hysteria among the young "afflicted" girls, is revealed within the play, the modern reader is given a "hook" with which to identify with characters and situations which might otherwise feel foreign.
Miller's play is a powerful revelation of themes involving mass hysteria, fear of the unknown, and a belief in the essential evil hidden within the hearts of men. As the accused are required to prove their innocence, questions regarding the role of individualism within this society, its intolerance of differences, its justice as defined by the state and by clergymen who differ, and the hysteria which grows from repression all surface within the dramatic action, leading to an intensity of feeling rare in modern theater. When John Proctor is faced with a choice of telling the truth and being sentenced to death or lying and being saved, the ironies of the play are fully revealed.
Written in 1952, slightly before the McCarthy era, Miller's depiction of these trials presages the McCarthy hearings and illustrates his belief that the fear of Communism is the equivalent of fear of the Devil in colonial times. Miller, however, has selected facts which illustrate his point of view and his themes, making no pretense of accuracy regarding the witchcraft trials themselves. In reality, Abigail Williams was eleven, and John Proctor was sixty, quite different from the dramatic circumstances here. Mary Whipple