In this essay, I will be looking at how Miller presents the themes of truth and justice in ‘The Crucible’. To achieve this, I will examine a variety of characters including John Proctor because Miller uses his characters actions to convey the themes. Before I conclude, I will compare Miller’s work to other plays.
‘The Crucible’, by Arthur Miller, is not an accurate historical account, but rather an accurate portrayal of the Salem witch trials of 1692 in Massachusetts. Miller makes minor changes to the events that occurred during the trials such as the genuine names of the victims, the total number of people that were executed, and the correct ages of the characters. During the time of the witch trials, people follow their strict Puritan beliefs.
They believe in hard work, prayer, Bible study, and introspection. Miller tells of how the Salem minister catches several young girls dancing in the forest. This is a sign that the girls are practicing evil, because dancing is not permitted in the Puritan faith. The witch trials were a time of much grief, because many innocent people died without proof and guilt ruined many lives. Miller tells in detail about the witch trials and how the townspeople accept guilt of “witches” without evidence. People use witchcraft to gain vengeance. One of the most important themes in Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ is that good, mercy, and justice do not always triumph over evil.
Miller uses his character John Proctor to represent justice in his work, ‘The Crucible’. John Proctor opposes authority in Miller’s play. He is portrayed as the protagonist. From the general feel of the scene, we can gather that the common room of Proctor’s house is cold, empty and unwelcoming. This parallels with the relationship between John and Elizabeth. There’s is a great amount of tension between the pair, and they idly make chit-chat at the table, as they feel they need to:
“Proctor: Pray now for a good summer.
It should be noted that it is Proctor who is trying to make conversation; Elizabeth is spoiling his attempts with one-word answers. Proctor is feeling frustrated because Elizabeth is not acknowledging that Proctor is trying his hardest to repair the relationship. He is forever claiming his desire to please Elizabeth:
“I mean to please you Elizabeth.” – Proctor
The audience would get frustrated with Elizabeth for not forgiving him. Although Proctor is guilty for the false relationship with Abigail, he is going below his stature to earn trust and respect from Elizabeth. This shows the personal integrity of John Proctor. He loathes hypocrisy because they are testifying to something that is not true. Proctor has strong moral principles with one exception. Hale asks him to recite the Ten Commandments and he forgets one of them, which in his case is the most important,
“Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
He denies all accusations of his affair with Abigail until the trial. He then admits to the affair in order to save his name and his wife. His confession shows that his principles are stronger than anything else is. Though John Proctor tries to do the right thing in the end, his death shows that justice does not always triumph over evil. This also shows that Miller presents themes through the actions of the characters.
Judge Danforth is a prominent character in the play, and one of main persecutors of those accused of witchcraft. He seems a hard man, and one not willing to change his views. He is the main judge we see in the play, and is in charge of hearing all evidence against people, and judging them. The simple fact that he does not let any one of those accused off the charges unless they confess creates the impression that he is a hard man, with very little sympathy or any kinder human traits. However, during the play, there are times when he seems to be gentler with some people.
The first mention of Danforth is in Act three. Miller includes notes about many of the characters in the stage directions, and those of Danforth give an instant impression about him.
‘Danforth is a grave man in his sixties, of some humour and sophistication, that does not, however interfere with an exact loyalty to his position and his cause.’
He brings religion into his arguments a lot, mainly criticising those who do not attend church regularly. He seems to have more respect for those who are what he thinks of as ‘good Christians.’
Danforth: ‘You are in all respects a gospel Christian?’
Procter: ‘I am, sir’
Danforth: ‘Such a Christian that will not come to church but once a month?’
Danforth: ‘â€¦Plough on Sunday?’
In this last quote, Danforth seems disbelieving that a man who considered himself a Christian could plough on a Sunday. While nowadays this would be acceptable, in the days Miller was writing about, a man generally could not call himself a Christian unless he adopted a rather strict way of life, and obeyed the rigid rules of the church. Judge Danforth wants to respect Christians, and while using an apparent lack of Christianity against the people accused of witchcraft, he seems to admire the use of it to accuse them, just. When the girls are questioned, they frequently protest ‘I am with God’ or ‘I am with God now.’
Danforth seems to believe them when they say this. He seems to want to believe they are ‘with God’ although he refuses to believe it about any accused. This seems quite hypocritical. However, if he believes that any people accused were ‘with God’ and announced them innocent, he would be accusing the girls of lying. This would mean he did not believe that they were with God. Therefore, Danforth feels he has to choose someone to believe and stick to their point of view. Believing the girls, would certainly be a popular decision, at least at first, as the public would be keen to ‘carry out God’s work’ and condemn who they thought were involved in witchcraft.
He shows some kind human traits, although the select conditions under which he does this, makes it seem a lot more false. When he is talking to Goody Proctor, he seems kind and respectful. When he dies this, she is already a condemned woman, and this may be for his own gain, as he is trying to get Procter to confess. This clearly shows that justice does not always triumph over evil.