The Many Challenges in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
Arthur Miller’s famous drama The Crucible, a tale of how accusations and lies
ruinously impact a whole community, is very aptly titled. By definition, a “crucible” is “a severe test,” and the challenges faced by Miller’s characters are many. The historical events dramatized in the play reflect how core human values, including truth, justice and love, are tested under life and death conditions. The trials of the characters and the values they hold dearly come when their simple, ordered world ceases to be black and white and easily deciphered, and is turned upside down in the gray shades of ambiguity.
A major test in The Crucible is found in how the household of John Proctor
responds in situations where hard choices must be made between lies and honor or truth
and shame. Early in the drama, it is revealed that Proctor has been unfaithful to his wife, Elizabeth, indulging in an extra-marital affair with a servant girl, Abigail. Suspecting the affair, Elizabeth dismisses Abigail amid rumor and innuendo, and Proctor confesses to his wife. The value of truth in their marriage is sorely tested when Elizabeth cannot find it within herself to forgive him. As the chain of events surrounding Abigail and the dancing girls in the forest leads to mounting self-protective lies about their activities, many women in the community, including Elizabeth, are accused of the practice of witchcraft. When the magistrate comes to arrest Elizabeth, the charges revolve around a doll made by servant girl Mary Warren and Abigail’s claim that the doll is Elizabeth’s devilish instrument of torture. Mary Warren’s awakening to the truth about Abigail’s lies causes her to question her experiences and the oddly vaulted place she holds in the community as one of then bewitched. When Mary cannot withstand the pressure of the taunting girls in the face of
her truth, she crumbles. Even though Proctor realizes that coming forth and confessing to his lechery with Abigail will bring shame and dire consequences upon himself and his
family, he steps forward to save the reputation and life of his wife. Proctor calls upon the court to summon his wife to verify his faithlessness, swearing “there are them that cannot sing and them that cannot weep---my wife cannot lie. I have paid much to learn it.” The irony of his confession of adultery to save his bride comes full circle when she denies his adultery to save him. Ultimately, Proctor chooses to denounce the lie of “doing the Devil’s work,” knowing that the choice of truth will mean his death.
The value of justice in the ordered society of Salem is also put to the test. When Betty Parris, the daughter of the self-serving Reverend Parris, falls ill , “the whole country’s talkin’witchcraft.” Parris, to save his tenuous position as minister of the flock, calls in an expert in expelling demons, the Reverend John Hale. Reverend Hale is an...