It’s a play in four acts written in 1953 when Arthur Miller was in his late
thirties. I mention this because I found it interesting that when a new
character was introduced, he invariably led a description with the
character’s age. I guess that does give the reader something to chew on.
Some authors might use other adjectives–stocky, or boisterous, red-faced,
etc, and let the reader imagine the rest.
I found it even more interesting when Miller introduces one of the women:
“Rebecca Nurse, seventy-two, enters. She is white-haired, leaning upon
her walking-stick.” When Miller was writing this play, in his thirties, I
guess “72” seemed years away and that a woman that old would have
a walking-stick. Please! let US imagine how she might have entered!
The play takes place in Salem, Massachusetts during the witch trials of
1692. Justice was easily established at those trials. If you confessed and
admitted you were a witch, with Satan, your life was spared. But if
you denied it, you were hanged. Like Catch-22.
Despite the early setting, and the unfamiliar way of addressing the
people in the village—-Goody Proctor, and Goody Parris for the wives, for
instance, the play moves along well, especially after Act One sets up the
premise of the work.
There is a conflict about whether a group of young girls are deliberately
besmirching the name of a townswoman, accusing her of joining Satan
and casting spells. The leader of this group, Abigail, had had immoral
relations with the woman’s husband and it is thought she would like to
see the woman hanged as a witch, and to wed him herself.
The husband, John Proctor, is brought to trial and is encouraged to
simply confess to seeing the Devil and others to save his life. He almost
does sign a confession, as a lie, but in the end, well, I’ll leave some joy
for you to finish the play and find out how it ends yourself.
The bitter truth of this play is the harm that idle and more hateful gossip
can do —to the ruin of a good person’s name if not his life. It reminded me
of the recent book the book club read, The Monster of Florence, where
people were accused with little evidence of the horrendous crimes of that
Miller, himself, was brought before the House of Unamerican Activities and
questioned about meetings or activities he might have participated in during
the late forties and early fifties. The McCarthy hearings played a large part
in the reason Miller wrote The Crucible.
I’d like to sit in on the high school English class discussion and find out what
today’s students thought of this play.