Understanding The crucible within the context of the Area of Study: Belonging
Arthur Miller’s play, The crucible, was initially conceived as a response to the ‘hysteria’ generated by McCarthy’s communist witch hunts. Many professional and personal lives were ruined by the hysteria, fear and suspicion generated by McCarthy’s accusations based on little or no hard evidence. However, like all enduring and greatly valued texts, the themes and characterisations transcend both the historical framework of that era and the historical environment of Salem in which the development is embedded; what emerges is a play which highlights a range of critical ideas which may be linked to the Area of Study – Belonging.
What is perhaps most important is the question that is initially framed during Act 2 of the play: when should an individual stand on principle against a society? Salem was a highly reactionary community which even Miller recognised as needing some tight restrictions in order that the settlers might survive in an extremely challenging environment.
“The Salem tragedy, which is about to begin in these pages, developed from a paradox. It is a paradox in whose grip we still live, and there is no prospect that we will discover its resolution. Simply, it was this: for good purposes, even high purposes, the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combine of state and religious power whose function was to keep the community together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction by material or ideological enemies. It was forged for a necessary purpose and accomplished that purpose. But all organisation must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy the same space.” (Arthur Miller The crucible , p. 16)
The sense of belonging to the community in a physical, legal and spiritual way was paramount. We are reminded by Hale and Danforth that any deviation from such tight control required immediate response with dire consequences for those individuals identified as a threat to the society.
Hale: (to Proctor and Elizabeth) Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted too small. (p.65 Act 2 );
Danforth: (to Francis Nurse when he orders ninety-one people on a list defending Rebecca’s good name to be arrested) … But you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. (p.85 Act 3).
Miller recognised that this conflict between the individual and the group would create ‘exalted drama’.
To develop exalted drama, Miller asserted that a dramatist must set up a ‘balanced concept of life’. Man is not a ‘private entity’. He operates within a societal framework that has “the power to make him what he