The Crucible by Arthur Miller
“The conflict created when the will of an individual opposes the will of the majority is a recurring feature of drama. ” Identify such a conflict in a non-Shakespearean play you have studied and show how the dramatist deals with the implications for both the character and the society. Arthur Miller in ‘The Crucible,’ deals with the internal/external conflicts of protagonist John Proctor, during the witch trials of Salem; showing the effects of “an individual opposed to the will of the majority. Through the mass hysteria caused by Abigail, corruption of justice and weakness of man; we see clearly the effects of fear and how Miller’s work translates into his own situation, during the introduction of McCarthyism. The most dominant outward human conflict between individual and society, is shown as Proctor defies the church and judicial authorities. On first introduction to John Proctor, Miller’s notes suggest that he “need not have been a partisan of any faction in the town, but there is evidence to suggest that he had a sharp and biting way with hypocrites. Particularly the character of Reverend Parris, who’s teachings of “hell fire and damnation” are attacked by Proctor. Religiously opposed to this ‘baptism by fire‘, Proctor stands alone against the majority theocratic beliefs of Salem. Paris- “there is a faction in this town against me” Proctor- “Then I must join it. ” This is quite a contrast to Proctor’s attempts to not affiliate himself with the affairs of Salem. Arthur Miller also had contrasting ideas to what was considered acceptable politically, holding an interest in communism rather than the democratic view.
The weakness of man becomes evident in situations alike to that of Proctor and Miller’s fight against the majority belief. A weakness revealed by the inability to not accept the alternative views of others or control fear of the strength of an individual. This acts as proof that societal problems can be traced to individual human failings. Indeed it is through John Proctor’s moral failings that the witch hunt in Salem is unleashed. Proctor’s refusal to meddle in village affairs stems from his reluctance to publicize his echery, and gives a pretext for evading social responsibility. This gives Abigail power; enough power to remove the only obstacle between her and John, Elizabeth, and instigates the witch hunts in an effort to have Goody Proctor convicted. Elizabeth recognises the blackness of her intentions, and attempts a final connection with her husband out of fear, “John if it were not Abigail that you must go to hurt, would you falter now? ” Empowerment of the oppressed is seen as the positive result of an individual fighting alone against the majority ideal.
On the eve of his wife’s arrest, John is forced into action rising above his own fears and against society (or the mass hysteria of Salem). Judge Hawthorn sees this as an attempt to “overthrow the court. ” Similar to the view of Joseph McCarthy, a U. S senator who sought to convince citizens of America that there was a communist conspiracy taking place; the United States continues to be a country driven by fear- recognised by both Miller and McCarthy to be a stimulant for action. By the second act, the audience is presented with the full effects of fear. 5 have been accused of witchcraft and Salem is filled with fear of “the devil’s work. ” in 1950’s society the original ten “Hollywood suspects” have accused numerous individuals in America of communist activity, in order to save their own necks. Societies often try to suppress individual freedom in order to maintain societal order. Ironically, although the Crucible was written before Arthur Miller‘s involvement in the McCarthyism trials, both he and Proctor were accused and actively refused to testify against fellow citizens.
The moment of no return for Proctor came after his confession of adultery, enraged by the court‘s blind justice at the hands of a “whore. ” With no control over his anger, John sacrilegiously proclaimed “God is dead! I say you are pulling down heaven and raising up a whore. ” As an unseen instigator of the movement against false confession during the trials of Salem, John Proctor shows a great deal of Integrity, ripping up the confession.
This action is crucial to the events in the play and a running theme throughout. “Hysterically, as if the tearing paper were his life” both Parris and Hale plead with Proctor “Man you will hang. ”. In the same way, Arthur Miller acts with integrity during his own trial, suggesting that that aspects of his own character have been translated in John Proctor. This reoccurring feature of drama, the effects of individual versus society, may also be identified as a reoccurring situation in society.
That John Proctor’s life-affirming choice should lead to death is the greatest irony of the play, and yet another example of injustice in our society. “The greatest injustice in the whole conduct of the witch hunt is that the inquisitors offer a reprieve to those that confess, provided they name other suspects. ” Let us hope that society has learnt from its mistakes, predominantly the effect of the McCarthyism trials in the 1950’s, icons such as Miller where blacklisted from the very industry in which they had made a name for their country.
John Proctor‘s death, along with other well known members of Salem (such as Rebecca Nurse led to the disbelief in the Salem judicial system and scepticism of the ‘outbreak’ of witchcraft, ultimately changing the theocratic practices of Puritanism. “In a solemn meeting, the congregation rescinded the excommunications- this in March 1712, upon the orders of the government. The jury wrote a statement praying forgiveness to all who had suffered. To all intents and purposes, the power of theocracy in Massachusetts was broken. ”
The conflict that is created when the will of an “individual” challenges the will of “majority,” is clear through Miller’s portrayal of mass hysteria caused by Abigail over the witch trials of Salem, corruption of justice, and weakness of man; definite effects of fear. We are able to draw parallels between the character of John Proctor and author Arthur Miller, enabling the readers to identify the same pattern in opposing society as a majority during the 1950’s or even today. As a reoccurring feature in drama, Miller understands that challenging society is the only way to make change, and instigating this change is the power of fear.