One of my all time favorite plays and classic pieces of literature is The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Miller’s play captures the essence of the contagious and rapid insanity of “witchcraft” hysteria during the years of 1692 and 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts. The Salem Witch Trials were a dark time in American history in which roughly 200 men and women were accused of practicing witchcraft and roughly 20 people were hanged on the accusations. Interesting thing about the Salem Witch Trails is that a lot of the accusations had to do with “witnesses” claiming falsehoods as true and fabricating elaborate stories to seek a desired outcome. Through descriptive character development Arthur Miller takes the readers on a journey back in time to witness the chaos, torture, desperation and despair.
Abigail Williams is a teenage girl who lusts for John Proctor, who is a good Christian farmer and married to Elizabeth Proctor with three sons. In a night of lust John commits the sin of adultery providing Abigail with false hope. Abigail who is young and filled with lust and envy asks Tituba (a slave girl from Barbados) to conjure up spirits to help her get rid of Elizabeth in hopes of becoming John’s new wife. During the night in which Abigail, Tituba, (and two other Christian girls from the town), Betty and Mary head into the woods and dance around in a circle as Tituba sings, Reverend Parris witnesses this and finds it uncouth. The next day Betty (Reverend Parris’s daughter) is ill in bed and will not wake up. Reverend Parris (being a man of God) chooses to look at the “dancing” as the Devil’s worship and that the girls were working for the Devil. (In the modern world of today we tend to look at dancing in the woods as free-spirited fun). Abigail denies she had any part in it and blames it all on Tituba saying that it was Tituba that spoke with the Devil. From this point forward accusations of “I saw”, “she saw”, “she did”, “she didn’t”, “I did” and “I didn’t” are thrown like a ball at a ping pong match.
John Proctor’s wife Elizabeth is convicted of witchcraft because she happened to have a poppet (a doll) with a needle in it inside her home and John is thrown into jail for not knowing all 10 commandments, adultery and saying “God is dead in this town”. The mid-wife Rebecca Nurse is also convicted of witchcraft for helping deliver babies who happened to be still born or die shortly after. (Remember that was common for that time period due to lack of proper medical care). Giles Corey is crushed to death by stones for neither denying or agreeing to committing witchcraft stating the famous phrase “more weight” choosing to die with his pride and his name intact.
Through these accusations and ultimate deaths of many of the characters, Arthur Miller eloquently displays how men at that time used religion as a means of control to achieve a desired outcome. They used the fear of God to persuade people to conform whether they wanted to or not, which is against the true meaning or message of Christianity. The Crucible’s strong undertone proves how corrupt man’s spirit can be despite religious affiliation and how righteous a man’s spirit can be even if he has committed sin. Witchcraft be only the icing on top of this cake.
In the event that you haven’t absorbed this play yet, please consider it a must read and place it on your “to be read” list as it is written beautifully and touches upon human characteristic flaws and how if provided a spark everything will ignite. Remember, history does repeat itself. Read, learn and be aware. Happy reading. (5 stars)