Often, we are told that human nature tends to display traits of selfishness or embodies the attitude of ‘me first, you later’. Arthur Miller’s most reputed work ‘The Crucible’ explores the consequences and sheds light to the true extent of a human’s selfishness. The court-based drama focuses on the tales of the 1692 Salem Tragedy and tells the story of the Salem town who are falsely accused of practicing witchcraft. Readers are shown the strong theocracy used to serve a human’s selfish need of vengeance and self-preservation. Hence, to commemorate the 67th anniversary of Miller’s exceptional work of literature we will explore the underlying perspective of the play through the critical lens of the character Abigail Williams. A, character that best displays the underlying themes throughout the script.
Since, the first performance ‘The Crucible’ has been widely considered to be a masterpiece. As, Miller’s was able to give readers and the audience the opportunity to experience the paranoid frenzy of the Salem Witch trials firsthand. Leaving, literature reviewers intrigued such as Wade Bradford (2019) who stated “… these scenes of mock-witchcraft can create a chilling effect… transforming the faceless names from history into living characters”. The success of the play comes from Miller’s ability to move beyond the discussion of witchcraft and the event of Salem to explore human motivation and behaviour (Scheidt, 2020).
“The play continues to affect audiences by allowing them to see how dark desires and hidden agendas can be played out”. For, Arthur Miller the character Abigail represents the ‘villain’ in his play as she is portrayed as a very manipulative and vindictive person (John Ferres, 1979). Abigail is a young, orphaned women whose has had an affair with John Proctor and is left dealing with the rejection of her true love who is overcome with guilty and loyalty to his wife. Readers are shown how decisive she is in making the wrong decisions and how she’s quick to hurts others to get what she wants. Her, desire is illustrated in the quote “I look for John Proctor that took me from my sleep … you loved me John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet'(Act 1, 25, Miller, 1952). The quote illustrates the purpose of Abigail’s actions which is about her getting John for herself.
Consequently, this deep-rooted affection or love for John is what led to the downfall of Salem. As, it was Abigail’s jealousy fuelled by her love that led her to perform witchcraft in order to remove the obstacle in her relationship which happened to be John’s wife Elizabeth. After, her unsuccessfully attempt of murdering Elizabeth, Abigail takes advantage of the chance to eliminate Proctor’s wife by accusing her of witchcraft. As, Abigail believes this would be the perfect opportunity to marry Proctor, while safeguarding her reputation and evaluating herself [image: Image result for the crucible]within the Salem community (Dennis Wellend, 1979).
Winona Ryder as Abigail Williams in The Crucible (1996) As, reader we are shown how different characters lie and fight their way to get the revenge they think their enemy deserves which is drawn from their selfishness to gain vengeance. However, it’s through the actions of Abigail that Miller introduce readers to the theme of revenge. For, Abigail her jealousy of John’s wife is what feeds her need of vengeance as she cannot accept the fact her relationship has ended. She feels like Elizabeth is taking her place which she expresses in the quote “Oh, I marvel how such a strong man [can be with] such a sickly wife'(Act 1, 24 Miller, 1952). From, this quote we are shown how Abigail thinks she is worthy of Proctors love, but his wife Elizabeth is not. Thus, in order to get her greatest desire, she seeks out revenge and does not care who she hurts in the process of her revenge. Essentially, which led to death of so many innocent town members. Essentially, it is Abigail’s need for revenge that influences the setting because Salem becomes a chaotic mess due to the actions of revenge taken throughout the play.
Additionally, we are shown how the ideology of reputation is deeply rooted in the society of Salem. As, Dennis Wellend (1979) states “having a good reputation, being blameless and beyond reproach is very important in theocratic Salem”. To achieve this reader are shown the extent characters go through to protect their reputation drawn from their selfish need of self-preservation. Although, it’s Abigail’s desire to gain revenge it is also her fear of a bad reputation that leads her to continually lie. The, importance of reputation is farther portrayed in other characters such as Abigail’s uncle who states “You drank the blood Abby. You didn’t tell them that” (Act 2, 26, 1952). This quote shows that both Abigail and her uncle care more about their reputation than being accused of witchcraft (Scheidt, 2020).
Most importantly when breaking down the structures and themes of the play we can take a step back and examine the message conveyed by Miller throughout the play. Which, through the analysation of Sean Nelson we as readers can understand that it’s depicting “the terrifying swiftness with which power-hungry demagogues can employ ideological delusion” (Sean, 2017). An ideology which feeds on the unsettled paranoia to reduces even the most thriving community “to a hornet’s nest of lies, hysteria, and persecution” (Sean, 2017).
Throughout the play, we’re shown how the play revolves around the underlying themes of vengeance and reputation. However, after further analysation it is understood that the theme of vengeance plays a bigger role. As, readers are shown how different characters lie and fight their way to get the revenge they think their enemy deserves which is drawn from their selfishness to gain vengeance. Causing a domino effect that led to the unfortunate and sadden end of the Salem town. As, stated above this, perspective is explored through the character Abigail William’s as she best depicts the two major themes of vengeance and reputation. As, every action that she makes is for a personal gain or to get the revenge she thinks her enemy deserves.
- Scheidt, Jennifer L., and Denis M. Calandra. CliffsNotes on The Crucible. https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/c/the-crucible/play-summary?lcitation=true
- eNotes,2020, In The Crucible, what message is Arthur Miller trying to get across to the reader?’ eNotes Editorial, 1 May 2010, https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/crucibles-what-message-arthur-miller-trying-163897 .
- Bradford, Wade. (2020, February 11). The Crucible – A Challenging Masterpiece. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-crucible-a-challenging-masterpiece-2713659
- John Ferres (1979), Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Crucible, https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/21940284?selectedversion=NBD572184
- Dennis Wellend, (1979) – Miller: A study of his play – Methuen https://books.google.com.au/books/about/Miller_the_Playwright.html?id=x5anKb111_sC&redir_esc=y