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Betty can't wake up. Is she bewitched? John Tells abigail their affair is over The girls accuse the neighbours of witchcraft Elizabeth begs john to reveal abigail's deceit Abigail accuses elizabeth - she is arrested John claims that the girls are lying Abigail whips up hysteria in court Giles and john are arrested Hale begs elizabeth to make her husband confess John destorys his confession and decides to be hanged ACT 1 ACT 2 ACT 3 ACT 4
Parris is a miserable, harsh man who had very little understanding of children. "In history he cut a villainous path, and there is very little good to be said for him.... Until this strange crisis he, like the rest of Salem, never conceived that the children were anything but thankful to be permitted to walk straight, eyes slightly lowered, arms at sides, and mouths shut until bidden to speak."
Miller begins his drama with criticism of Parris' "villainous" behaviour in the tragedy that is about to be enacted.
He then widens his perspective, taking in the village and the puritan settlement of the area. The overwhelming strictness of the moral code is noted - any form of "vain enjoyment" such as the theatre, singing or dancing is forbidden. The Puritan (not Christian!!) lifestyle was fiercely guarded after the inhabitants fled England to escape religious persecution.
Miller also notes the growing restlessness at these restrictions. There were not the same dangers anymore (Indians and the wilderness) and people were getting nervous about this new freedom. Out of these changes, he says, came the witchcraft hysteria. It allowed people to vent their frustrations and repressions and to take revenge on their neighbours and to settle old disputes. Some people used it as a way to free their consciences from sins they had committed, by blaming things on innocent victims.
Betty can't wake up. Is she bewitched? ACT 1
Miller notes that the behaviour of the people is "still with us" suggesting that the same themes and problems of Salem in 1692 were also evident in the USA, 1952, at the time of his writing this drama and that "we [too] shall also be pitied some day."
Miller's themes, such as authority, power, hysteria and honesty all emerge from Act 1. The moral 'paradox' or contradiction of a theocratic state is one such theme. (theocratic = ruled by God) That a community basing its laws on a religious code would seem at first sight a good thing, yet the rigid controls imposed are bound to involve repression, frustration and ultimately rebellion - which are all undesirable. In other words - Miller is suggesting that too much 'goodness' can be bad. He also shows that in times of upheaval or change people are inclined to panic and therefore behave badly.
Miller includes some important notes when introducing Abigail. She is two things: 'strikingly beautiful' and 'dissembling' (devious or evasive) She is also full of pride, intelligent and holds power over the other girls. She demonstrates one of the play's ironies - that the truly evil ones are seen as innocent, and the innocent as guilty.
Abigail is given qualities that are associated with the devil - superficially attractive, sly, clever, proud and strong willed. At first, she tells her uncle the truth - that Betty is not 'witched' - later she uses the strategy of crying 'witch' to deflect from herself.
Proctor is introduced by Miller as " a sinner, a sinner not only against the moral fashion of the time, but against his own vision of decent conduct. Proctor, respected and even feared in Salem, has come to regard himself as a fraud."
The audience discovers that Abigail and John Proctor have had an affair. Abigail does not want it to end despite Proctor telling her that it must and the power she acquires is used to help her in her quest to gain Proctor as her husband. Her urge to be rid of Elizabeth is a key motivation in the events to come.
Through the character of Proctor the audience is able to see a tragic hero - an admirable man with a weakness which eventually brings about his downfall. Miller has been careful in the way that he has portrayed the character of Proctor. The audience would not like him or relate to him if he was a 'perfect' character, but at the other extreme, if Proctor was rotten to the core, the audience would not care about his downfall. That he is basically noble, but flawed, makes him a far more interesting hero. His struggle in Act 4 is all the more compelling. Miller engages the audience to identify with Proctor from the very start.
John Tells Abigail their affair is over ACT 1
As a result of the concerns raised, Reverend Hale is brought into the situation. He believes himself to be a great authority on the subject. "He felt the pride of a specialist whose unique knowledge has at last been publicly called for."
Miller introduces several important aspects here - the idea that we still divide the world into "diametrically opposed absolutes" of good and evil (either people are totally good or totally bad) Miller argues that this is too simple that there are always both negative and positive attributes as seen through his protagonist who is neither wholly good nor wholly evil.
He suggests that the Devil is a political concept - a way of keeping people in line - "a weapon designed and used time and time again in every age to whip men into a surrender to a particular church or church-state." Miller argues that reducing things to 'good' and 'evil is knowingly exploited by those who want power. In The Crucible the convenience of witchcraft meant that the powerful in Salem were able to brand their 'enemies' as evil and do what they wished with them despite the obvious injustice the audience feels. As a Jew, Miller must have felt some links to Hitler who was able to brand Jews as evil and murder them by the millions. He also draws more obvious links to the McCarthyist hysteria of the 1950's.
Act 1 ends in wild hysteria. To save herself, Abigail accuses Tituba who is poorly educated and frightened. To save herself, Tituba accuses the old women of the village such as Sarah Good and Goody Osborn. Abigail and Betty also join in the crying out to save themselves from a difficult situation.
The Putnams also join in out of self-serving reasons and Hale feels like the hero of the moment for finding the Devil! Everyone has gone temporarily crazy and they have committed themselves to a course of action that will be hard to back down from. To protect themselves they now have to destroy innocent people. The unthinkable alternative is both punishment and humiliation.
The real evil that Miller is identifying is the wickedness in the hearts of ordinary people - treating others as disposable objects and forgetting common sense and decency. The worst things happen because of the uncontrolled selfishness which is within each one of us.
The girls accuse the neighbours of witchcraft ACT 1
Aspects to consider from Act 1:
The girls know they will be in trouble for dancing and conjuring in the woods. They need to find a way out of the situation.
Abigail still wants John Proctor to herself.
The girls are frightened of Abigail.
Proctor rejects Abigail and makes it clear that he intends to be faithful to his wife from now on.
There is clear rivalry between Parris and Proctor.
News of the witch trials - what was madness has now become institutionalised. The chances of the characters admitting their lies become slimmer.
In an extremely ironic situation, Abigail, the true instigator of the chaos, has taken on the role of 'saint.' The only person who can say she lied has a personal motive for not coming forward.
The community divisions revealed by the trials mirror the personal division between Proctor and Elizabeth. (and the internal conflict within Proctor)
There are strong contrasts in their natures: He is passionate, but guilty while she is cool and judgmental. Proctor knows that he has sinned but he defies the moral condemnation of his wife, and later that of the court.
Through Mary Warren's account of the court proceedings we see that ignorance is giving way to revenge. Elizabeth is more perceptive than her husband and sees that Abigail is working up to taking her place. Elizabeth begs John to see Abigail and "whatever promise she may sense - break it, John, break it."
Elizabeth begs john to reveal abigail's deceit ACT 2
A warrant has been issued for Elizabeth, as the accusation of Abigail. The miscarriage of justice is worsening. Now three good, and innocent women are accused.
Proctor finally takes a stand (as he should!) to protect his wife against vengeance and in doing so is affirming his own goodness.
The link to the title now becomes more apparent - under pressure, all characters begin to show their true colours. The good will show their goodness, while the bad will become more villainous. Miller suggests that people do not change - the truth is always better than a lie.
Abigail accuses elizabeth - she is arrested ACT 2
Aspects to consider from Act 2:
The Proctors feel sure that Abigail is behind the accusations against Elizabeth, but the only way they can get the court to believe this is for John to admit lechery.
Hale clearly suspects the motives of some of the accusers but he fails to act upon his own feelings.
The way in which Abigail has made Elizabeth look completely guilty.
How foolish and gullible the senior members of the court seem in the face of the girls' doubtful testimony.
The dangers of looking so hard for proof that some is found even when it is not actually there.
The parallels to the McCarthy trials are easily seen. "A person is either with us or against us." says Danforth at one stage. It echoes what Miller wrote in Hale's introduction in Act 1. There is good or evil, God or the Devil - there is no in between.
Danforth's argument that anyone who questions the court (because the court represents God) is automatically against it, and therefore is on the side of the Devil, is clearly crazy! Just as crazy as McCarthy's argument that anyone who wasn't in favour of the House of Un-American Activities Committee witch hunt was against it, and therefore a communist.
Danforth is pretending he wants to see justice done, when he is really protecting himself. He uses his standing and position of "representing God" to get away with this.
Other self-serving characters include Parris and Putnam and the brazen lies of Abigail. In contrast, Hale has changed position on the situation and is increasingly taking Proctor's side as he sees the truth of what is happening.
Danforth's line that, "We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment" is eerily true. It refers back to the metaphor of the crucible - the true nature of the main characters are being revealed - though it is the supposedly good who are shown to be wicked and the accused whose good is emerging.
John claims that the girls are lying ACT 3
Proctor's confession is a vital part of the play. He can only discredit Abigail by telling of their affair. But in doing so, he stands up for honesty and honour. There is no way to avoid accusing himself in the process. It is a dramatic moment and contributes to the audience's sense of Proctor as admirable. His innate goodness is coming out - however painfully.
The test of Elizabeth by Danforth asking if Proctor had an affair is a poignant one. It is a matter of honour never to lie, but faced with the choice between breaking her own moral rule (of not lying) and protecting her husband, she chooses to lie. Is can be seen as an act of sacrifice and is all the more moving for the audience because they recall her cold behaviour toward Proctor in Act 2. In another extreme irony, it is the expression of her love (lying for him) that condemns Proctor.
Hale also cries out against the injustice but is silenced.
Abigail, sensing danger, resorts to a "do or die" pretence of bewitchment which clearly shows her lying and manipulative nature. The end of this act is very powerful and it is the forces of evil that drive it. We see Mary corrupted by the lies and fear. She goes back to Abigail and the audience can see that evil is triumphing over good.
Proctor refers to seeing the "filthy face" of Lucifer. He says the Devil is you or I if we give in to lies and self-serving and knowingly avoid the truth. He cries out, "We will burn" suggesting the guilt that is felt when knowingly doing wrong.
Abigail whips up hysteria in court Giles and john are arrested ACT 3
Aspects to consider from Act 3:
The court hears only the evidence that it wants to hear.
Some people clearly have much to gain from certain arrests and executions.
Hale realises that the girls' testimony is likely to have been false, but there is too much at stake for the court to back down.
Elizabeth covers her shame and thinks she is saving her husband by her denial of the affair between John and Abigail.
Three months have passed and the witch hunt is over. In the neighbouring town, Andover, the people have rebelled and the court has been overthrown.
The key witnesses have disappeared - at last showing their true colours. To steal has always been a crime, and in those days for unmarried girls to go off unchaperoned to a port town, and then board a ship was basically seen as immorality.
The disappearance of the girls clearly suggests that more clearly than any of Proctor's arguments that the original evidence was false - yet this news has little effect on any of the characters - Danforth's only response is to protect himself and Parris thinks only of his lost money. Rather than reconsidering the guilt of the accused (as Hale urges) the press on with the hangings.
At this point, Miller lets the audience read between the lines rather than tell us directly what to think. Danforth is a well educated man - he cannot fail to grasp that the case against Proctor and the others has fallen apart - and yet, he presses ahead and becomes guilty of murder.
Danforth's reputation matters more to him than to admit he was taken in by Abigail. Proctor and the others are expendable, the victims who will be sacrificed to maintain a pretence - victims of the overwhelming pride of Danforth, Hathorne and Parris.
Hale begs elizabeth to make her husband confess ACT 4
Hale now sees that he was swept along by his own pride and was used by others for their own ends. He has now changed his opinions and has now changed his moral stance - he now believes that beliefs are secondary to people and life. " Life... is God's most precious gift; no principle may justify the taking of it."
Proctor faces a dilemma: to lie and live or to tell the truth and die. The whole play centres around the importance of the truth. If people lie, then nothing is sure. Proctor understands this but also wants his life. Inner conflict.
This act also shows the reconciliation of John and Elizabeth. He asks for her forgiveness (compared with Act 2 when he denied his guilt) and admits his guilt. Elizabeth also admits to her coldness and by forgiving Proctor, is reunited with him. As a skilled playwright Miller manages to construct scenes of great personal drama and maintain the conflict of ideas which are intellectually challenging to the audience.
The final scene deals with the most difficult choice of all for Proctor: to do what is 'right' or what is 'best' for him (ie. to live!)
Ultimately he faces the same choice that Parris, Abigail and the other 'villains' faced - choosing between the truth or lying to save themselves/ personal gain.
Proctor's final choice is a moral one rather than a selfish one.
Hale continues to argue that choosing life is the right choice right until the very end. Readers must consider whether there is any validity to his alternative interpretation. Was it really worth Proctor dying?
Perhaps Miller, by giving us both viewpoints, is suggesting that he is not telling his audience what to think. Every individual must choose for themselves.
Given that the play is full of ideas and complexities for the audience to consider, an unclear ending is not altogether surprising.
John destorys his confession and decides to be hanged ACT 4
Aspects to consider from Act 4:
Sarah Good and Tituba are clearly not in a fit state to account for themselves, but are still hanged.
Hale and Parris have changed considerably since the start of the trials, though perhaps for different reasons.
Why Proctor's 'name' is so important that he ends up dying rather than losing it.
How much the pride of Danforth and Hathorne is responsible for allowing the executions to go ahead.