The Crucible': Main Approaches in Linguistic by Arthur Miller
The Crucible is a play that was written by Arthur Miller in 1952. It is the play that preceded Death of a Salesman, his first success as a writer for which he won a Tony award and the Pulitzer Prize. The play is based on the Witch trials of Salem, Massachusetts where 20 women accused of being witches where hanged in 1692
This play by Arthur Miller was written to last, and it is part of the selective canon (texts that we can find in a library), of the critical canon (texts and authors most frequently approached by experts in theoretical studies) and of the pedagogical canon (texts most commonly studied in English Philology studies).
When we read or see this play, we establish a form of communication with the author that is brings social discourse (politics and religion) to the front. Regarding the production process of the play, when Arthur Miller wrote the play the Red Scare and McCarthyism where at its peak. He took the concept of a contemporary repressive form of government and social injustice and placed it in 1692.
Back in the 1950s, Miller was considered a Communist sympathizer by the Government. Fear made many critics didn’t support the play and many friends stop talking to him. This is also represented in The Crucible, since he emphasizes how rumours, intolerance and hysteria can affect the most important values of our society and destroy someone’s life. Arthur Miller uses in his play a literary discourse based on lack of explicitness, ambiguity and symbols to reveal the evils of 1950s “Happy Days” America to his audience.
This play has been staged for the last 60 years, with both naturalistic and non-naturalistic approaches. The Crucible establishes a permanent dialogue with the audience through language and stage, which is emphasized by the oral potential of Drama.
Sadly, most of the issues that Arthur Miller criticises in his play and that he himself suffered during his life, are still present in the 21st century. Repressive regimes, abuse of power and extreme forms of religious beliefs are still part of western and eastern societies, making this play permanent in time. In the 21st century we have moved from the Red Scare and McCarthyism, to the “fake news” Era of social media bullying and shaming.
Being a play, The Crucible reflects the main generic features of Drama. The play begins with an Overture that explains the characters’ background and witchcraft hysteria as well as the time of America’s founding, bringing to the front space and time which are both essential aspects of Drama.
It has many different staging possibilities since there have been both naturalistic and non-naturalistic productions of this play. Naturalistic productions have a timeline that takes place in chronological order. In more non-naturalistic productions of The Crucible, space and time are managed with more freedom (flashbacks or flashforwards) through stage directions that can give the audience information that the dialogue between characters can’t. The ‘fourth wall’ is not broken in the traditional naturalistic production of the play. The audience has access to every detail and event that takes place, but no interaction takes place with the actors on stage.
The way characters use language is also one of the most important aspects of Drama. Arthur Miller makes his characters speak (vocabulary use, grammar) as people from Massachusetts in 1692 did, in order to make them more believable.
Arthur Miller’s use of characterisation in his play helps us follow the story of the play even giving access to events that took place before the action of the play begins. He uses explicit author-characterization through his stage directions that describe the characters’ personality and attitudes. He includes narrative sections (not classified as stage directions) in the play that explain the characters’ background and the period when the play takes place. What every director needs to decide is if these narrative sections should be included or not. The experience we have as a reader of the play can be very different to the one of an audience member if the director does not include these narrative sections. Since, as readers we will be able to have insight to all the details provided by the narrator and therefore, our opinion about the different characters will be influenced by him. However, whether these sections are included or not, they are very useful for the actors and director in order to stage the play and make the characters more believable.
Miller is sympathetic towards the views of John Proctor; he depicts him as an honest man that stands by his principles. Proctor can be compared to Miller in the sense that the playwright also refused to lie when he took the stand on court. Miller didn’t name or accuse people when he had to testify before the House Committee on Un-American activities during McCarthyism. Both Proctor and Miller can be said to find redemption through martyrdom (the acceptance of punishment rather than the compromise of one’s beliefs). Proctor is also described through other-characterization, since it is the play’s main character and most of the events that take place are affected by his actions.
Another feature of this genre is Dramatic irony that Miller uses in order to increase tension to the play. Dramatic irony occurs when something is known or understood by the audience but not by the characters on stage. There are multiple examples, such as for example when the audience knows that Abigail is not telling the truth, but the other characters do not. Another example takes place at the end of the play when everybody but Elisabeth Proctor, knows that John Proctor has confessed to sleeping with Abigail Williams. The author also uses other types of irony, such as for example situational irony; when visited by Reverend Hale, John Proctor forgets to name the 6th commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. Another example of the use of irony in the play is that although the people of Salem are obsessed with being “decent” and “pure”, those who blame the devil are actually spreading it, and those who speak the truth are accused of siding with the Devil.
As a subgenre, The Crucible is sometimes classified as a Melodrama because of its hero John Proctor. Peter Brooks, in The Melodramatic Imagination (1976), says that ‘melodrama acts powerfully in society’ and that melodrama ‘is very good at expressing hysterical symptoms (because of the exaggeration of gestures)’. This is closely related to The Crucible since the emotions and feelings of the 1950s American population are related to the ones from the people from Salem in 1692. In that sense individuals begin to think as a single unit, and a kind of mob mentality unfolds as group hysteria.
As Miller includes psychological descriptions of the characters in the narrative sections of his play, I think that the critical theory of Psychoanalytic criticism can help address the literary discourse reflected in The Crucible and to know its psychological and emotional dimension. This theory brings the play closely connected to the author and to the context of creation (since McCarthyism and the Red Hunt became part of the American psyche at that time).
According to this theory, the expression of the playwright’s unconscious is used as a way to free himself from society’s inhibitions. Therefore, Miller becomes ‘the other’ and can be simultaneously himself and another person (John Proctor). The author or reader can be freed through literature from the repression that society unfolds on him. Whether is McCarthyism for Miller or Puritan religion and theocracy for John Proctor.
Freud stated that “the essence of repression lies simply in turning something away, and keeping it at a distance, from the conscious” and that “frustration or prohibition by social forces could lead to neuroses and hysteria” (Boag). This is clearly shown all throughout the play with Abigail’s character and the consequences of repressed sexuality. So, if Puritan religion is based on repression, the mass hysteria represented in The Crucible is directly linked to the puritan nature of Salem’s society.
If we analyse the play according to Archetypal criticism, we can find recurrent ancient symbols such blood (sin and sexuality). In The Crucible, fear and evil are represented through darkness and the wilderness since the Salem villagers feared the attacks of Native Americans.
In conclusion, there is something special about this allegorical play that places it apart from other works by Arthur Miller. In my opinion it features the immanentism values of what a literary text is: a human experience through language. The Crucible is timeless, because although the play is set in 1692 and written in the 1950s, it broadens our knowledge and makes us think of our own lives from a different point of view (it can be interpreted from different perspectives). Miller uses literary language and the genre of Drama to provide a distinctive and personal view to the reader and audience member of how a repressive society, religion and government can have a negative effect on the individual’s freedom and most basic rights.
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