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Miller’s Manipulation of The Tragic Form in The Crucible

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Arthur Miller’s tragic play The Crucible (1953) holds a mirror to the ugly possibilities of human qualities. Exposing the destructive influence of willful ignorance – borne from a society built upon mendacity – Miller’s dark allegory provides a poignant warning of the dire consequences that come from blind conformity. Throughout the play we see a representation of individual experiences and aspirations having a destructive influence upon a community’s shared experience; this allows Miller to portray the contentious political situation of 1692 Salem Massachusetts as a direct manifestation of the metaphorical witch-hunt that emerged during the ‘Red Scare’ of 1950’s McCarthy America. Through a series of climaxes that rush the play towards its conclusion Miller strives to celebrate individuals who attempt to challenge and counteract political repression; at the heart of the play sits a commentary upon the need for resistance against dominant political ideologies and a recognition of the patterns of corruption and political evil that plague us. It is through such a careful manipulation of the tragic form that allows Miller to encourage empathy through our witnessing of ordinary people’s suffering.

The Crucible employs the tragic form to lay bare the innate condition of the common ‘everyman’. Providing Miller with an opportunity to share his personal concerns regarding the indoctrination of society, the interplay of authoritative figures with individual human experiences. This is explicated through his characterisation of Danforth’s imposed power which stifles the independent thought of Salem’s broader society. Stating that “[he] accepts no depositions” when informed of the afflicted girls’ accusations were a “pretence”, demonstrates a blatant disregard for the truth in order to promote a reputation for infallibility. Miller challenges his contemporaries to see the world differently and perceive such actions as emblematic of the influence Senator McCarthy and HUAC had on the emergence of the ‘Red Scare’ which held 1950’s society within its vice-like grip. An advocate of the value truth and justice play within a productive society, Miller employs ‘everyman’ Proctor as a tragic symbol of the impact political fear and deception can have upon individuals experiences. Characterised as a voice of reason throughout the opening Act, Proctor serves to enlighten audiences to the diectful nature of political systems. Miller condemns the devaluing of the truth through Proctor’s later exclamation “the proof, the proof!” in response to Elizabeth’s arrest and absurdity of the evidence, “what signifies a poppet… what signifies a needle!”. In the subsequent act, Miller juxtaposes the courthouse ante-chamber and the high authority of Salem’s political power. His dramaturgical choice to set the Act in a ‘mock-courtroom’ enlightens audiences to the irony of the trials which promote deception rather than justice and the truth. Proctor’s verbal exclamations and questioning in the subsequent act exposes audiences to the failure of institutions to “bring men out of ignorance” when aware of the “fraud” they are promoting, igniting a more critical reflection on HUAC’s political motivations. Miller represents the dire consequences that can arise when individual motivation dictate the actions of a group.

Abigail William’s desire for self preservation and revenge, after her name in the town is questioned as “entirely white”, prompts her to advance the belief that “unnatural causes” were at play in Salem. The lechery Abigail and John Proctor committed, becomes a driving force for Abigail’s actions in an attempt to win Proctors love and besmirched his wife’s name. Miller provides readers with a deeper understanding of Proctor’s flawed and paradoxical nature through explicative passages dispersed within the play’s script. Miller highlights Proctors “hypocrisy” by juxtaposing his reputation as a force for good: “respected and even feared in Salem”, and the reality of his “troubled soul” – “He is a sinner… against his own vision of decent conduct”. Abigail’s ability to break down a person’s integrity and image by exposing Proctor’s fraudulent nature as well as her creation of mass hysteria and her false accusations, ultimately leads to Salem’s downfall. Abigail’s ability to heighten the anxiety in Salem is paralleled by the tragic form, the building of tension towards a climax at each Acts conclusion. In Act One, Miller reinforces how the pervasive fear, “the rumour of witchcraft”, culminates in the incantatory symploce, “I saw ____ with the devil”, illuminating the rising hysteria among individuals as a result of mob mentality. Within this tense Act, Miller explores individuals contribution to communal responses. In depicting how one person’s personal objectives shape the shared human experiences in Salem and lead to the destruction of a community, Miller challenges our natural tendencies to following the herd, while symbolically criticising the actions of his 1950’s audience in the progression of communist phobic ideologies.

Miller represents the value of resisting the uglier, corrupt nature of political institutions, depicting the heroic sacrifice of those challenging the political oppression. Miller is critical of those characters who remain static and unchanged, symbolically challenging his apathetic 1950’s audience. In addition, Miller criticises the way ‘Red Scare’ paranoia resulted in the stifling of individual voices, privileging Proctor’s non-conformity opposition to the injustice. Through the comparison of Proctor and Danforths, character foils, Miller encourages his audience to empathise with those who evolve and stand up for what they believe in. Both Danforth and Proctor are enlightened by the error of their ways however only one is willing to accept their failure and change their actions. Danforth’s insistence that he “will not receive a single plea for pardon or postponement” as it “speaks a floundering on his part” highlights his inability to admit to his failure in providing truth and justice during the Salem witch trials. In contrast, Proctor “shamefully” confesses to having “known” Abigail “in the proper place… On the last night of [his’ joy”. Miller highlights the higher value of an honest life than one lived in shame and the consequences of actions never acknowledged; censuring those who promoted their own agendas and redirected blame, during the 1950’s investigation of alleged disloyalty and subversive activities of individuals and groups suspected of having Communist ties. Miller includes the exclamatory assertion “I am John Proctor! You will not use me” to represent Proctor as a martyr holding to his moral and political principles despite the threat to his life. He emphasises the value of individual resistance, while simultaneously, through the inclusion of the stage direction “with a cry of his soul”, mourns the tragic consequences. Through the closing stage directions, Miller creates both a poignant sense of loss, “the final drumroll crashes” and a cathartic sense of release, “the new sun is pouring in”. Hence, Miller illuminates the value of individuals who counteract political oppression and the uglier side that our shared experiences may engender.

Ultimately, the power of The Crucible resides in Arthur Miller’s manipulation of form, enabling the audience to see the uglier consequences of our human nature on ‘everyday’ men and whole communities while simultaneously promoting the actions of individuals who counteract and challenge the darker actions of others. 

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Miller’s Manipulation Of The Tragic Form In The Crucible. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/millers-manipulation-of-the-tragic-form-in-the-crucible/
“Miller’s Manipulation Of The Tragic Form In The Crucible.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/millers-manipulation-of-the-tragic-form-in-the-crucible/
Miller’s Manipulation Of The Tragic Form In The Crucible. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/millers-manipulation-of-the-tragic-form-in-the-crucible/> [Accessed 18 May 2022].
Miller’s Manipulation Of The Tragic Form In The Crucible [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Feb 10 [cited 2022 May 18]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/millers-manipulation-of-the-tragic-form-in-the-crucible/
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