Questioning the Power: Conflict of Power in The Crucible and Paradise
Mehdi Hassanian esfahani (GS 22456)
Mr. Rohimmi Noor
Critical Appreciation (BBL 5202)
Final Exam - October 2008
The Crucible (1953) by Arthur Miller is a play in four acts, about witch trials in Salem.
When people of Salem are labeled and accused of witchcraft, they have to confess, name
others and repent in the court if they want forgiveness, or they would be imprisoned and
killed. But there is no need of an evidence for this accusation, which means they are all
potentially guilty unless they prove it. This convention goes to extreme when it involves
innocent people and accusation happens maliciously. The protagonist, John Proctor is one
who accused guiltlessly as well, but being an honest man, he refuses to lie, and name
others. He questions the Power –including judges, Abigail and other people who follow this
foolish system. He is hanged in the end, but his persistence toward the current system is
Paradise (1998) is a novel by Toni Morrison. It is about an all-black town, called Ruby
and a convent 17 miles away in which some women live free from town and the rules. They
are mostly sexually abused women who have escaped and found the convent, and during
the time, not only managed to survive, but have settled down a business and lived in peace.
Leaders of Ruby, including Deacon Morgan and Steward Morgan cannot bear their
existence, and decide to abolish them from their neighborhood: those women should leave
or may be killed. They attack the convent, one day, and massacre the women, although
most of them manage to run away. But even after the attack, things change in their town.
The notion of power and empowerment is much emphasized in both books, that the
whole massacre and killings happens around it. People kill as much as they can to keep their
power. In other words, having the power is one of the motifs of the conflicts and destroying
the opponent seems to be the only way to keep it. But in a long time, awareness succeeds
and change is inevitable. The current assignment would observe the conflict, which
threatens the power, the reaction of power and the ending it brings, through formalistic
approach in both literary works. It would use the technique of close-reading to analyze the
text and provide examples if necessary. Theme of the stories would also be analyzed, as
according to Martine, the conflict(s) of the text leads to the formation of the theme. But it is
worth noting that although both of them are based on historical events and The Crucible is
allegory of McCarthyism, but the following analysis would limit itself to the text and the plot
and will not, therefore, apply the New Historical criticism.
Th e Cr u ci b l e
There is a trial in The Crucible for those accused of witchcraft in which they should
confess and repent. Witchcraft is taboo and considered a crime, as it deals with devil and it
is against the Bible; therefore those who practice it have committed a crime, and a sin. Even
questioning the trial, which is a legitimated action, based on Gospel to demolish witchcraft,
is considered a crime (69-70).
Although there are different conflicts in The Crucible, such as the struggle within
Proctor, but the most obvious one, according to Martine, is the one between Proctor, the
protagonist and society –the ruling power represented by judges and deputy governor.
Abigail Williams is 17 years old who first leads local girls to a kind of ritual in forest,
but being accused of witchcraft, she disadvantages the court and judges to name and accuse
other people, including whoever stands against her (and the power she has just gained), and
those she hates personally, like Elizabeth Proctor. She becomes the spokeswoman of the
court, and accuses people out of spite. John Proctor, on the other hand, is an honest and
hard working farmer, who, at first, is unwilling to take part when the panic of witchcraft
spreads in the village, but then goes to the court to save his wife’s life, and tells the truth.
When he is accused of witchcraft, he cannot lie and name others to free himself. He insists
on the false basis of the trial, and chooses to be sentenced to be hanged, rather than lie and
accuse innocent people.
Being accused of witchcraft, Proctor does not observe the convention that judges
and society, although they know it is wrong, impose upon him; to repent and sign his
confession. They want him to do the same thing as other people do, and save his life. He
knows that even if he comes back to his life, this corrupted ‘power’ which belongs to judges
–who “are pulling Heaven down and raising up a whore!” (120)– and Abigail –as a victim
who misuses the power– would be reinforced. Believing that “a man will not cast away his
good name” (110), he tries to live an honest life. He ignores this power at the beginning, and
rejects it when he is in the trial.
But after hanging him and ostensibly subsiding the conflict, judicial power
diminishes. Although the trial is successful as the guilty was punished, but people realize the
meaning of Proctor’s insistence. Even the Power “fear there will be riot” (127). With
awakened people from their ignorance, it is promising that no one else would lie, and
accept blindly the conventions that power impose. They would never lie, confess of things
they have never done and accuse other people falsely and ignorantly. Martine makes this
plain when he says “The Crucible is a play about the collapse of the power of theocracy in
Massachusetts” (44). The ‘Power’, even if legitimated by Gospel is not upheld by people
In Paradise, men of Ruby feel frightened of the existence of the convent women. It is
implied that they cannot understand the nature of their difference, but feel the opposition
and decide to defend. According to Thody, literary interpretation of a text is always
integrated with social, sexual and sometimes political issues. Here, the patriarchal issues
related to Ruby provide good examples of this opposition. Based on the novel and
descriptions, Ruby is a traditional patriarchal town in which men practice their patriarchal
and traditional ideology, which roots to their history and their set of beliefs. Women and
their issues are always an important concern in Ruby and they maintain that “everything
that worries them must come from women” (217). They have repressed women all the time,
in order to control them and not worry about them, and now they notice that in their
neighborhood, there are women who live free. Rulers of Ruby, including Deacon Morgan
and Steward Morgan, are aware of the repression they oppose on women. They have
legitimated it by referring to and mentioning their past, their common suffrage of racism,
and their common belief regarding ‘the Oven’ (which is a sign of unity and landmark of the
town, a sign of protecting women from unrestrained sexuality of whites) and by
commenting that patriarchy is necessary to achieve the ultimate ideal society they have
planned for. But now they realize that the convent women may become a sample for
women, and the new generation, who seek freedom and individualism. They ask
themselves: “whose power is stronger” (276)? The convent women are those who left (and
mostly escaped) from town to the convent. Although they were nothing in the patriarchal
town, now, by rejecting the town and their history, they have a mansion, a car, their
business and have managed to support and help others as well. As the patriarchal traditions
root in their past, men of Ruby cannot tolerate any change to the foundation of their society
and its history. They are afraid of losing power, and they cannot endanger their authority to
modify it to the new needs and norms.
The conflict is between the old traditions that the “grandfathers built” (85) and still
guarantee the ruling of men, such as the Morgans, over the townspeople, and the new ideas
which are spread by women in the convent. These ideas are basically against the patriarchy
of the town. They are concerned about women, promising that they can live free, whether
in Ruby or anywhere else; they “don’t need men” (276) anymore. Practically, the convent
women question the ruling of Ruby. The mansion stands for “blessed malelessness, like a
protected domain, free of hunters” (177) and it welcomes anyone who comes around.
Feeling helpless, men of Ruby, and particularly the rulers “want to shoot somebody”
(96) and they use the convent women as scapegoats. They attack the mansion to massacre
all they can find; they shoot one; women escape and men come back to Ruby. The conflict is
subsided and they continue to live happily.
But, although they have forced women to run away, the new ideology has settled
down between the people. Old traditions are questioned: Save-Marie dies, graffiti on the
hood of Oven changes to ‘We Are the Furrow of His Brow’ and Deacon Morgan changes. “It
was as though he had looked in his brother’s face and did not like himself anymore” (300).
He can’t take the choices his brother, Steward, made. He cannot tolerate their old
traditions. And Richard Misner, the reverend, realizes that it is the time he should stay.
Despite the past happenings and the patriarchy of society which had frustrated him and
made him think about leaving, now he knows that “he would stay … [as] the future [is now]
panted at the gate” (306). Other characters, like Billie Delia are awakened as well. They are
looking to see “when will [the convent women] come back? When will they reappear, with
blazing eyes, war paint and huge hands to rip up and stomp down this prison calling itself a
town” (308). People are changed, and may not obey the old traditions, even if ruling men
massacre some of them.
C on c l u s i on
In both stories, there is a conflict between people in society and the ruling power,
which tries to impose the ideology which is based on their religion or a set of beliefs, but it is
not supported by people. Having the power, they force their ideology, imprison or attack,
kill and hang, but after some time, these efforts seem to be fruitless, and the power
It is promising that the future is bright, without the repression of the power system.
Although the resolution of conflict is due to the power’s desire, but eventually it accredit the
opposite group. Awakened by incidents, people realize that things must change (particularly
in Paradise), and they do not need ‘power’ to decide for them anymore (particularly in The
Martine, James J. The Crucible: Politics, Property, and Pretense. New York: Twayne, 1993.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. New York: Penguin Books, 1976.
Morrison, Toni. Paradise. New York: Plume, 1999.
Thody, Philip. Twentieth-Century Literature: Critical Issues and Themes. London: Macmillan,