We can see a modern parallel in ‘the crucible’ where the essence of evil and its sources are unveiled. The Crucible is an historical allegory for the McCarthy period; it can be examined more fruitfully as a play about the human condition. McCarthyism, as Miller himself said, is the backdrop for the play, but is not its theme.
At the time that “The Crucible” was published, Senator Joseph McCarthy was heading a Congressional Committee which was trying to expose Communists and other un-American activities in the United States. Because the McCarthy investigations were also called “witch hunts,” a connection was made between “The Crucible” and Senator McCarthy’s committee. Miller was called before McCarthy’s committee and convicted of failing to cite the names of those who had formerly engaged in radical activities. The verdict was reversed in 1957 in an appeals court. Miller wrote, ‘It underlies every word in The Crucible.’
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The play is set in 1692, in Salem, a small town in colonial Massachusetts. During this time there was an outbreak of a witchcraft-hysteria where innocent people were accuses and arrested for witchcraft. It resulted in 19 people (plus two dogs) hanging for witchcraft. The society and the judicial system of New England was immensely Puritanical- they had intense believe in God and surprising events easily attributed to black magic and the ‘devils doing’ which tore their society apart. The play is loosely based around this event and some of its characters like Judge Danforth, Reverend John Hale and Giles Corey.
The genre of the play is mainly dystopia, along with tragedy and allegory. It consists of several themes and theology such as accusations, hysteria and reputation, God, confessions and witchcraft. Throughout the play we can see old grudges and jealousy spilling out and uncover a people’s real motives.
In this essay, I will be analysing how Arthur Miller creates dramatic tension in ‘The Crucible’ in Act Three. I will do this by analysing: his use of language; setting description; character description; character’s speech; stage direction; character’s facial expressions; dramatic irony and the plays content itself.
Firstly, Miller creates dramatic tension in Act Three through his description of the characters. Example of this is when Judge Hathrone is described as being a ‘bitter’ and ‘remorseless’ judge (pg 68). It makes him sound like a sour and ruthless villain in the play. Because he’s convinced the girls are telling the truth, he will not change is mind easily. This creates tension because it means it will be even harder to convict Abigail and the girls. Miller uses derogatory adjectives to get across this tension. The description of Hathrone makes me feel tense because he sounds cold and he’ not afraid to hang more people of witchcraft.
Secondly, Miller conveys drama through the description of the vestry room. He writes ‘the room is solemn, even forbidding’. ‘Solemn’ describes it being grave and sombre and ‘forbidding’ makes it ominous and hostile. These words almost depict the room as a person and thus Miller uses personification to make the room sound abysmal. In my opinion, these words portray a scary and intimidating impression of the place. From this description, I can tell the events in this chapter are not going to be pleasant.
Thirdly, in Act three, Miller uses the character’s speech to get across drama. After Mary Warren accuses Proctor of witchcraft, Proctor says, ‘I sayâ€• God is dead!’. At that time, cursing against the Lord was an offence. This would create tension because it would further condemn Procter’s innocence. From this, we can see Miller uses biblical terms and blasphemy to get across tension. Because to the judges this statement further increments that Procter is ‘with the devil’, it makes me feel anxious to see what will happen to him.
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Fourthly, drama is created through character’s facial expressions. For instance, ‘Procter (Breathless and in agony)’ describes the pain Procter is undergoing in the court room. ‘Danforth (Dumbfounded)’ portrays an expression of surprise on Danforth’s face. It adds to the drama as the reader can image the characters more vividly. This makes it easier to understand the characters as well. Miller shows the character’s expressions by using powerful adjectives and verbs. By conveying the character’s facial expressions, to me, the characters seem more flamboyant.
Fifthly, Miller builds tension through his use of stage direction, ‘(Francis is still standing, horrified)’. The stage directions bring out the emotions, movements and the speech of the characters. This kind of stage direction gives more dramatic feel to the play enabling characters to display their emotions as described. To portray the stage direction, Miller uses a mixture of techniques such as adjectives, ‘with indignant slowness’, metaphors ‘Danforth (it is growing into a nightmare…’, similes ‘(she looks about as though searching for the passion to faint)’ and personification, ‘fire in her eyes’. To me, the stage directions are helps visualise the play effectively and makes it more realistic, plus their speech is made more potent.
Sixthly, Miller uses dramatic irony to build suspense and drama. There are many cases of this. The main is where the girls accuse the folks in Salem of witchcraft since, while the audience knows that the girls are lying, most of the characters do not. For example, in court, Abigail and the other girls pretend to be attacked by spirits and the people in court fear them to be in danger, ‘Draw back your spirits out of them!’. However, the audience knows that they are faking it. This generates tension because we’re unable to predict what Abigail will do next to arraign people. This tension is formed through the girls actions, ‘Abigail (looking about the air, clasping her arm…’, speech, ‘I freeze!’ and accusations ‘Mary Warren (pointing at proctor): You’re the Devil’s man!’. Miller creates this dramatic irony by keeping the audience and the reader external to the play. This allows the reader to study each character separately and make their own judgements. The dramatic irony makes me feel worried; I don’t want people hanged for a crime they did not commit, also feel irritated at the judges for believing in Abigail.
Finally, the content of the play creates tension and anxiety. The theme of hysteria and witchcraft runs throughout the play, which adds to the excitement. When Proctor produces a testament to prove his wife’s innocence, Danforth acquires ‘how many names are there? … Ninety-one’. The fact that a further 91 people are now tied to the indictment intensifies the tension and drama of the case. This is predominantly expressed by Miller’s use of religious idioms- the entire play is virtually biblical. This makes me curious of how the characters will react and the verdict of the case.
In conclusion, Miller uses a mixture of techniques to build dramatic tension. His use of language profoundly impacts the play as it makes it realistic and helps understand the characters better. Each character is presented unique with its own personality which adds to the drama of the play. He creates suspense by the construction of the plays themes and motifs. The structure of the play was skilful as it gradually built tension and keeps the reader guessing. I believe his techniques were successful as he was able to engage me well during the play. I particularly liked his choice of words and his style of humour. However, certain parts grew me wary as is droned on for too long.
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