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The Crucible (1953) authored by Arthur Miller, is a dramatic play that relates to the events that took place in the Salem witch trials that occurred in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692-93. In the puritan town of Salem, a group of girls went dancing in the forest with a black slave named Tituba. While dancing, they are caught by the local minister, Reverend Parris. One of the girls, Parris’s daughter Betty, falls into a coma-like state. A crowd gathers in the Parris home while rumours of witchcraft fill the town, resulting in a number of accusations being spread throughout. Miller uses a range of conventions such as characterisation and dialogue in order to emphasise the relationships present throughout the novel and position the audience to respond to them in a way in which they can relate to in their personal lives.
Trust is often seen as the foundation of a healthy relationship. In The Crucible aspects of trust are revealed on numerous occasions, more specifically through the characterisation of John Proctor and his wife Elizabeth. For the most part, John and Elizabeth Proctor’s relationship is strong and loving. But considerable strain has been placed upon their marriage by John’s affair with Abigail. Although Elizabeth’s trust with Proctor is clearly diminished, she does not use this against him and instead is seen to be rather forgiving as shown through her dialogue, “I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man, John – only somewhat bewildered.” This characterises Elizabeth in a forgiving manner and highlights the unconditional love she has for her husband. This is only made clearer later on in the play when she does everything she can to protect his reputation. Elizabeth is forced in the middle of Act 3 to testify in court about her husband’s involvement with Abigail and when questioned about John’s character she states, “Your Honor, I – in that time I were sick. And I – My husband is a good and righteous man. He is never drunk as some are, nor wastin’ his time at the shovelboard, but always at his work. But in my sickness – you see, sir, I were a long time sick after my last baby, and I thought I saw my husband somewhat turning from me.” Relationship and marriage expert Sheri Stritof stated in a recent article ‘How To Practice Forgiveness In Marriage’ that “being able to forgive and to let go of past hurts is a critical tool in marriage. Additionally, being able to forgive is a way to keep yourself healthy both emotionally and physically.” This philosophy is clearly displayed in Elizabeth’s actions as she is able to forgive him for his previous wrongdoing and only says good things about him in court in an attempt to save his reputation. The construction of the relationship between John and Elizabeth Proctor positions myself to relate to relationships in my life that withhold similar values. For instance, being forgiven by my friends and family after I may have done something to upset them or me having the strength to forgive someone who may have wronged against me. Through the characterisation of Elizabeth Proctor and her relationship with John, I am made to respond to this in a way of personal reflection and relation.
The tension in the relationship between Rebecca Nurse and Ann Putnam is highlighted through aspects of construction in the play. By emphasising Goody Putnam’s own internal conflict through her characterisation and juxtaposing this to Rebecca’s rather contrasting situation, the clashing of the two is made very evident. Perhaps the most clear example in the play comes in Act 1, when she speaks of Betty, a girl who is supposedly ill from witchcraft: “I have eleven children, and I am twenty-six times a grandma, and I have seen them all through their silly seasons, and when it come on them they will run the Devil bowlegged keeping up with their mischief. I think she’ll wake when she tires of it.” This statement hurts Goody Putnam as almost all of her children have died. Rebecca’s acclamation of her large family of children and grandchildren causes Ann to respond in a spiteful matter and perhaps through jealousy, Goody Putnam makes the assumption that Rebecca could be responsible for the death of her children. This example shows how jealousy can lead to people making irrational judgments and can be the downfall of a relationship. Suzanne Degges-White is a professor and chair of the Counselling and Higher Education department at Northern Illinois University, and in her article ‘How Jealousy Can Poison a Friendship’ she stated “Jealousy can be a complex and painful emotion. It can reflect our own sense of inner insecurity and insufficient sense of self-worth.’ This relates to the relationship Between Rebecca Nurse and Ann Putnam as Putnam’s internal conflict of the death of her children leads to her feeling a sense of jealousy when Rebecca comments on her children. Ann’s jealousy derived from her ‘inner insecurity’ leads her to create a rumour about Rebecca in order to put her down, leaving a large indent on their relationship. Through these examples throughout the play Putnam is characterised as a jealous, insecure and even mean person, however I believe she is quite misunderstood. This relationship, constructed through the characterisation of Goody Putnam causes me to respond emphatically towards her, and the unfortunate history in which she has ben through. I believe Putnam only acts this way as she is still grieving and does not know how to control her emotions. However I’m also made to respond in a disappointed way as although she has had a tough past, she should not use this as an excuse in order to bring people around her down due to her jealousy. Through the characterisation of Rebecca Nurse and Ann Putnam and the juxtaposing between the two’s different situations, elements of their bitter relationship are exposed, causing me to respond with a mix of empathy and disappointment.
The relationship between the Proctor’s and Mary Warren is a rather strange one, as shown through the characterisation of Mary Warren and dialogue throughout the play. The relationship between Proctor and Mary Warren is, first of all, one of service; that is, Mary is a servant in the Proctor home. At first she is characterised as a rather timid girl, and seems to be a loyal servant to John and Elizabeth, however this appearance is unravelled when Mary testifies in court and turns against John. She says “He come at me by night and every day to sign, to sign, to — … My name, he want my name. ‘I’ll murder you,’ he says, ‘if my wife hangs! We must go and overthrow the court,’ he says!… He wake me every night, his eyes were like coals and his fingers claw my neck, and I sign, I sign…” This is said when Mary realises that Abigail and the other girls are going to persist with their accusations against her in court, and therefore in the fear of these girls she is made to turn against John. Mary Warren’s decision to turn against John perhaps underlines that their relationship isn’t quite what it had seemed to be from the beginning of the play. Through Mary’s actions in court and her dialogue, aspects of her character in which may not have been present before such as disloyalty and dishonesty were made clear, thus making me question the strength of her relationship with John. In an article written by William Anderson ‘The Crucible: Character Development & Relationships’ (2019) it is stated that “when someone you trust betrays you it makes you question other people in your life, this brought on many complications between the Proctors and their trust for others.” This is extremely relevant as John has placed his trust in Warren to testify in his favour however Warren betrays this trust and fumbles to the pressure placed on her by the other girls. This characterisation of Mary Warren led me to respond in a surprised manner, as I believed that when it came down to it she would take the side of John, but this did not end up being the case. I was also frustrated as I was hoping that the relationship between the two was strong enough for Warren to finally express the truth of what the other girls had done, and put an end to the accusations and lies spread from them.
The Crucible demonstrates a number of different relationships throughout, through elements of construction such as characterisation. The way in which these relationships were expressed led me to interpret and respond to them in different ways, some of which I could relate to in my own life and others that caused me to react in a surprised, empathetic and disappointed manner. Overall I believe that Arthur Miller is highly effective in representing and constructing the relationships I have discussed in a way that forces the audience to respond, in whatever way that may be.
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