For my eleventh grade English class, I have just finished reading "The Crucible" and have also finished watching the movie adaptation. "The Crucible" which was written by Arthur Miller, is a shocking look into the events of a tragic period early in history that America will not likely forget. The setting of "The Crucible" is that it takes place in the Puritan community of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. The story revolves around the hysteria caused by the Salem Witch Trials. John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis), the story's protagonist (or should I say antagonist?), is facing a little bit of a moral dilemma. It turns out that Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder), Proctor's former servant girl and mistress, along with several other young girls, were caught out in the woods dancing. Apparently, from the evidence, Witchcraft was taking place. John's wife, Elizabeth (Joan Allen), is suffering because of his lechery, but deep down thinks that she may be partially responsible. Reverend Parris (Bruce Davison) calls for Reverend Hale (Rob Campbell), a renowned pastor (and self-proclaimed paranormal expert) to come to Salem to investigate the accusations.
John Proctor is sort of an innocent in this story. In the beginning of the play, we see that he is deeply haunted by the affair, but he keeps his head up about it. He is powerful of body, even-tempered and not easily led or quick to jump to conclusions. He changes significantly because he begins to lower his self-esteem, especially after he looses control over his current servant girl, Mary Warren. His change furthers because he later admits his sins, which leads to his inevitable imprisonment. While in prison, he learns that his wife has become pregnant, and therefore she will not be hanged. In the end, John is hanged after signing a confession and then ripping it up when he learns that it was to be nailed onto the church door. However, he did not die in bad spirits because he had accepted the fact that he was not coming out of this situation alive but his name would go untarnished. Proctor pleas before his execution, "Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!"
Elizabeth Proctor is sort of an innocent too. At the very start of the play, we see that she is a rather soft-spoken person, even with her past grievances. As well, she is an honest person who always tells the truth and never lies. She changes, however, when Abigail Williams brings charges of Witchcraft up against her. Her physical change starts when she discovers that she is pregnant. By the end of the play, she forgives John for his lechery. She states, "He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him!" This simply goes to show that she truly loved him in the end.
Lastly, there is Reverend Hale. At the beginning of the play, we see that he is a very confident man. He seems to consider himself an expert in the field of Witchcraft and goes about promoting that image with the aid of his countless books. The books, he thinks will solve all of the problems facing Salem. When Reverend Parris makes a comment about how heavy his books are, Hale simply replies, "They must be; they are weighted with authority." This goes to show that he puts too much faith into his books and not enough into common sense. His emotional change begins when the good and well-respected people of the Salem community start being accused of Witchcraft, like when Abigail Williams charges Elizabeth Proctor as being a witch. By the end of the play, he discovers that all of the accusations were in fact a hoax, orchestrated by Abigail Williams who shortly before the end of the trials, mysteriously disappears along with Mercy Lewis. He feels deep regret and extreme guilt for not trying to stop the madness sooner. He is also begging John Proctor to save his life, regardless of the possible aftermath in which his name is going to be corrupted.
In many ways, the story of "The Crucible" may not just be a dynamic character study, but it is also a study of the madness that can stem from superstition and fear. It simply amazes me that one little girl was able to use fear and superstition as a means of getting what she wanted. The madness that had been created by the Salem Witch Trials was not just the result of people's greed, but jealousy and all-out hatred for one another. And you must remember that this is coming from a religious community that had come to this country to escape hatred, though it was not the same type as it was the reason for them leaving Europe.
For many bizarre reasons, "The Crucible" has also been the unfortunate target of misguided criticism. These criticisms, I feel, are the unfortunate result of the Joseph McCarthy era. In 1950, McCarthy who was a senator from Wisconsin had engaged on a "Red Hunt", which to him, was a hunt for suspected Communist Party members and spies inside the U.S. State Department. Though this was relatively early in the Cold War, he had played on Americans already stemming fears of the Soviet Union in order to help rally people to flesh out the suspected persons. Many of the people who were accused, lost their jobs and had extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere. McCarthy, like many of the people during the Salem Witch Trials, had engaged on this hunt out of sheer hatred and jealousy of other people. And like when the Trials finally came to an end when the governor's wife had been accused of Witchcraft, McCarthy met his downfall in 1954, when he began attacking members of the United States Army. The Army immediately took dislike to the accusations and struck back at McCarthy. His power finally fell through when then President Dwight Eisenhower launched his own investigation into the accusations and found nothing. McCarthy later died in 1957 of alcohol-related problems.
Do you see all of the parallels between the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and the McCarthy era during the 1950s? These are perfect examples of the horrible things that people are capable of doing to each other out of the pure hatred and the accusers will often succeed in doing this by playing on people's fears and local superstition.
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