Arthur Miller’s allegorical play, ‘The Crucible, and Geraldine Brooks’s work of historical fiction, ‘Year of Wonders’, explore how religious despotism engenders fear and suppression within communities, as well as the adverse impacts such feelings can incite. As the religious ethos of the seventeenth century transitioned from pagan-inflected control to puritanical theocracy, fear and suppression become much more prevalent in society, and were used as a form of subjugation. This is evident in the events that occur in both texts, and is similar to the H.U.A.C trials that occurred during the 1950’s as a means to purge America of its Communist ties. Miller uses his original piece, ‘The Crucible’ as an exemplum for this event. Although Geraldine Brooks’s novel is not allegorical in nature, it too is based on historical facts, and incorporates ideas about personal growth and human responses to crisis and tragedy. The characters of both texts have a natural propensity to express certain behaviours and actions, but are prevented from doing so due to the austerity of each town’s religious authority; natural desires are subsequently repressed or made to be feared. Fear also manifests itself in witch-trial accusations and the inculpating of others, resulting in not only death and suffering, but also public ignominy. However, despite the egregious circumstances the communities are faced with, the central characters do not give in to fear, and are able to overcome their respective adversities.
Both texts feature a fervent religious presence that limits the freedoms and individual liberties accorded to the people of both Salem and Eyam; this is achieved by inculcating a degree of fear within each community. In ‘The Crucible’, Miller in his interpolations, frequently references the devil and its significance to the Puritan religion, and discusses how the proselytizing of Satanism has assisted in furthering the people’s conception of and credence in God. The juxtaposition of the devil and the divinity of Christ and God, is used to represent the rights and wrongs of humanity, as implied by Miller in his narration concerning Reverend Hale, “the Devil may become evident as a weapon… to whip men into a surrender to a particular church or church-state”. Individuals are therefore impelled to more readily accept the Puritan doctrine without reservation or doubt. To a similar extent, fear is also established in ‘Year of Wonders’ during the outbreak of the plague, but Brooks does so by emphasizing both the devil and the omnipotence of God. Upon the arrival of tailor George Viccars, Anna comments that “ [she] …thought God had sent him”, but immediately after, states that “Later, there were those who would say it had been the devil”. This is in direct reference to the Plague that befalls the town of Eyam later in the text, as Viccars is revealed to have facilitated the ingress of the disease through the bolts of cloth he carried into the village. The Plague of Eyam is the primary source of fear that pervades the narrative, and although initially connected with the devil, is soon described as the consequence of God’s acrimony or retribution, “If God saw fit to send this scourge…”. In this sense, both texts are able to convey the power and influence of religion, and its proficiency at exerting fear over people.
The transitioning of the religious climate from paganism to puritanical Christianity, brought along the entrenchment of gender roles in society. The female characters of Year of Wonders experience suppression at the hands of men in numerous ways. Women who were considered sexually transgressive, were punished and ostracized from society, as seen with Anys Gowdie who engaged in multiple acts of fornication, and also expressed overt irreverence towards God. Additionally, Elinor Monpellion was denied the liberty of consummating her marriage to her husband Michael Monpellion, as he sought to punish her for having pre-marital sex and a self-induced abortion, “What could she give in atonement for the life that, because of her actions, could never be lived”. Christian conventions typically forbade women from being too aware or knowledgeable, which is why Elinor and Anna’s expertise in apothecary practices was so unnerving for the time. Suppression can also be seen in other aspects of the text, as the villagers are forced to remain in the town of Eyam after Mompellion initiates a self-imposed quarantine, in order to prevent the spread of the plague. Consequently, individuals residing in Eyam are prohibited from entering or leaving. Similar circumstances can be observed in ‘The Crucible’, as Salem too adopts the ideologies of the traditional patriarchy. In this system, women are subservient to men, just as they are in Eyam, and were expected to be dutiful wives to their husbands, hence the title of ‘Goody’, implying ‘Good wife’. The citizens of Salem were also imprisoned by the witch trials and the duplicity of Governor Danforth’s court, as they continued to charge individuals with witchcraft, without the procurement of any tenable evidence, “…a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it”. In a time where the philosophy ‘children should be seen and not heard’ was taken in a literal sense, the youth of Salem were not given a voice to assert their opinions and beliefs, and were at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
Despite the many hardships faced by the characters of both texts, the central protagonists are able to retain a degree of autonomy, and overcome the tribulations they are dealt, including death, injustice and oppression. John Proctor, a farmer in Salem, serves as the main voice of logic and reason in ‘The Crucible’. He does not submit to the accepted beliefs of Puritanism and tends to be more critical of their repressive ways. In fact, the only time Proctor does acquiesce to Puritanical ideals, is when he confesses to the witch accusation levied against him, but later retracts his statement by refusing to the sign the written confession, “…Because I lie and sign myself to lies! … If it is a lie I will not accept it!” Similarly, Anna Frith overcomes her emotional lethargy throughout the text, to embark on a journey of self-discovery. Her progressive views on philosophical and social concepts differentiate her from the people of Eyam, including her interest in alchemy and medicine, and her willingness to help others during the crisis. Both Anna and Proctor are altruistic in nature, and this is contrasted with the more self-serving characters of the texts, such as Reverend Parrish, the conceited demagogue of Salem, Abigail Williams, The Bradley’s or Anna’s father Josiah Bont.
Ultimately, fear and suppression are inextricable in the societies described in both texts. Miller’s use of melodramatic conflicts in ‘The Crucible’ and the intimate musings of Anna Frith in ‘Year of Wonders’ emphasize the adversities faced by those under oppressive and censorious ruling.