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"The Crucible" as a Timeless play

An essay showing the ways in which Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" is a play relevant to any era

The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller, is a text that can definitively be defined as timeless, and therefore relevant to any audience in any society it is being read. Through a combination of black-and-white characters and timetested themes, Miller creates a play that can appeal to the imagination and conscience of any reader.

Throughout all of history, there has always been discord between the forces of ?good? and ?evil?; it is the most basic of conflicts. In The Crucible, Miller has submerged the characters in an atmosphere of ?evil?, such that their true personalities are revealed to the audience, and thus are subconsciously divided into ?good? and ?evil?. As there is both of these sides in any society, this division by the audience imparts a sense of reality upon the play and thus a sense of relevance.

The people of Salem ? from which the audience derive their ?good? and ?evil? characters ? were superstitious and highly religious, and their Theocratic form of government offered them security and unity. However, this strong religious background also offered the option to use it misguidedly to promote the evil of false accusations. The excessive and blind religious fanaticism created an evil atmosphere, one that can be felt by the readers in both the dialogue and stage directions.

The evil of the Salem tragedy recreated by Miller lies within the system and the people who promoted the system for their own evil purposes. It is evil human flaws within the flawed Theocratic system that bring about these tragic events. One such ?flaw? is human guilt, which prompts the accusations of the girls in the court. The girls were feeling guilty about their unlawful witchery in the forest. Guilt also drives the characters we generally define as good, sometimes to evil consequences. Proctor?s guilt about his shenanigans with Abigail makes him confess to adultery in the court, linking him in their eyes to the Devil. Elizabeth?s guilt about her frigidity to Proctor makes her lie to the court about his adultery, again linking him to the Devil.

Other human ?flaws? which are manipulated by people in the court system are vengeance (Abigail and the Putnams); jealousy (Abigail and the Putnams); fear and hysteria (the girls in the court); ambition and power (Abigail and Danforth); and greed and lust (the Putnams and Abigail). Indeed, it seems nearly the entire book is overrun with evil characters and evil intentions.

In a sense, Miller is asking the reader whether evil naturally exists in human nature. His ending reveals that good can triumph over evil, but at a great cost, and that evil is insidious and ongoing and can?t be easily eliminated. Although some ray of sunshine is evident at the end of the play, both figuratively and in the stage directions, there is still a sense of overriding evil.

By creating this overriding evil in the play, Miller positions the audience to take sides in this most basic of conflicts: good vs. evil. Just as these sorts of conflicts are evident in their everyday lives, a reader of any time can apply it to The Crucible, take sides with the characters and be drawn into the text. And to be drawn into the text makes the text relevant to the reader ? a reader of any time.

The characters themselves also help to make The Crucible the timeless play it is. By creating some definite characters who we know are evil or are good, we can apply them to people we know in our own lives. For example, the characteristics of Rebecca and Francis Nurse ? the two characters who represent all that is good and honest in the play ? could be subconsciously attributed to a loved family member. On the other hand, Abigail Williams ? an evil and manipulative slut ? could be read as an ex-girlfriend or a vicious warlord.

Since these characters are so definite, and we can so easily draw parallels between them and people in our own lives (whatever time we live in), the text becomes relevant to us, because it is people we know who are ?in? it. And if we don?t know any people with the extremes of character of Nurse or Abigail, we can mold characters such as Mary Warren to our own liking. For instance, a reader may forgive her for cracking under pressure and claiming Proctor was with the Devil; others with a different background may mentally condemn her and place her into their own private ?evil? character list. So, through the characters the text becomes relevant to the reader, whatever time they are in.

Another thing The Crucible accomplishes to be a timeless play is its moral relevance to any society. The issues and dilemmas the text raises are important to any society in any time, and as such are brought to the reader?s attention by Miller.

Miller originally wrote The Crucible as an allegory about the 1950s American fear of Communism. During the Cold War there was an exaggerated fear that Communism might be entering American political, artistic and public life. Congress set up a committee to investigate anyone who was sympathetic to Communism. Many innocent people were named, and careers were ruined in a ?witch-hunt? based on ungrounded fears and suspicion; the committee questioned Miller himself.

He saw many similarities between 1950s American ?McCarthyism? and the 1692 witch-hunts, such as the completely exaggerated fear of a common evil, the mass overreaction due to fear and suspicion, the distortion of truth to provide a common scapegoat and the completely ludicrous idea that if someone refused to confess it was a sign of guilt.

As such, the play foregrounds the authorities stupidity and the general public?s mass paranoia to get across Miller?s negative views on ?witch-hunts? and society?s general distrust for anything that doesn?t fit in. Miller was disgusted and deeply concerned with the effect that the 1950s spy hysteria was having on the lives of so many people. Hence the writing of and performance of The Crucible in 1953. He intended to warn America of the danger of such unfounded mass hysteria, and aimed to prevent the chaos of 1692 when innocent people were killed.

Another motivating factor for Miller?s writing of The Crucible was ?man?s inhumanity to man?. He wanted to show how blind to their own meanness and stupidity people can become when fear and suspicion overcome their reason. The need to maintain the positive virtues under pressure that Proctor, the Nurses and Giles have was obviously important to Miller. Indeed, comparisons can be drawn between Proctor?s and Miller?s motivations for the truth.

However, it has been said that the character of Giles Corey best reflects Miller?s views on ?witch-hunts?. Giles is motivated by the truth and a contempt for the authorities and individuals who promoted the witch-hunts. He also acts as a cynical commentator on the stupidity of the Trials: ?I hear she flies?, he said, sarcastically referring to the ?sick? Betty.

The Trials themselves are also condemned by Miller and his portrayal of them. Being a Theocracy, the authorities of the time believed they were carrying out God?s work, and so failed to see the evil of their powers and the subsequent chaos that it creates. The government shuts down any honest characters ? such as Proctor, Giles and Rebecca ? as soon as they have the chance.

These honest characters are seen by the Theocracy to be undermining their ordered society. Their desire for individual freedom of conscience is in conflict with a totalitarian government which has become infected by paranoia, insecurity, fear and hysteria. The authorities, for the sake of conformity and unity, are willing to ruthlessly crush any hint of rebellious thinking. The witch-hunts provided convenient scapegoats, and hanging a final solution.

However, the fact that these characters ?win? in the end over the Theocracy imparts Miller?s view that the conflict between the individual and society?s authority is also an ongoing and timeless battle, one that should be won by the individual but never is. Once again, parallels between these individual characters and Miller himself can be drawn, that is, his conflict with the American government?s own ?witch-hunt?.

The Crucible is timeless in that it will always reflect events that are occurring in the time that the reader is reading or the audience viewing. Even today comparisons over witch-hunts, good vs. evil and Theocratic baseness can be made in nearly every society; one merely has to turn on the news.

The issues raised and the characters portrayed in The Crucible are what make the play so timeless. Because the issues are relevant to any society, and the characters resemble people in any society, the text can be applied to readers of any society... or any time.

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