Literature from historical events

The two authors focus on two very different times in history and depict, not only the historical periods in which the stories take place, but also the changing role of religion over time. Each text focuses mainly on religion; Arthur Miller uses the Salem witch trials, which were caused by intense religiosity and therefore, the events, go hand in hand. While Jane Rogers uses a major historical event as a backdrop for the goings on inside a religious sect. Because of the different ways in which the two authors use historical events to create literature, the structure of each text is different. ‘Mr Wroe’s Virgins’ is random in the order of narrative voice; and although essentially chronological, there is no real sense of time. Whereas ‘The Crucible’ is very clearly chronological. Because of the nature of the text, there is therefore no need for repetition of one particular event.

‘Mr Wroe’s Virgins’ is set during the height of the industrial revolution (1820s and 30s), a time of greatly productive factories and protest. Rogers details in the novel, the creation of unions and technological developments, for example gas power and trains. This time in history was a time of conflict and so religion carried high importance however diverse. Religion is the central theme of the novel and cites one religious sect in particular – The Christian Israelites (others mentioned are: Owenites, Quakers and Calvinists). John Wroe formed this sect in 1819 and brought it to Ashton in 1822. We are not told what happened in the three years before the Sanctuary was built and the virgins called, but this means that the reader is given a greater insight into the sect itself by not seeing its history, but by being brought straight into the action; causing us to learn about their beliefs as the story progresses.

We learn also that belonging to The Christian Israelites greatly influenced the members’ lives and culture. If the people of Ashton had any form of religion before Mr Wroe’s arrival, festivals would have been changed and feast days added. At the creation of Southgate as Mr Wroe and the virgins’ home, people were very charitable and gave or traded their goods to the prophet and his household. This may have been a very strange occurrence as the industrial revolution placed great importance on money and wealth; nothing was free – yet some things were, for the prophet.

“Crucible – 2 a situation of severe trial or in which different elements interact to produce something new.” (Concise Oxford Dictionary) ‘The Crucible’ takes place during the Salem witch trials (1690s). At this time many innocent people were executed and often merely because of a neighbourly grudge; this caused the people to see this chaos as a threat to their existence. The main inhabitants of New England in the 1690s were Puritans, who had left Europe due to persecution. This meant that there was one fairly universal belief, contrary to ‘Mr Wroe’s Virgins’. The Puritans lived in a theocratic society, in which law and religion went hand in hand, as both were centred on the Bible.

The Puritans believed that, churches should be simple – there should be no ornamental decorations, no choir, and changes were made to the Roman Catholic Church service to make it far simpler. There were behavioural rules too, there was no dancing and days were spent working and in prayer. It is possible that their intense religious lifestyle caused the witch trials; the girls needed some “sport” in their lives and it just went too far.

Rogers uses the girls’ characters to put across the historical events featured in the novel. The reader is often given two or more different views of the same event, this means that we do not have to see a biased or shortsighted view, and gives the reader greater understanding of the events in the text. Rogers chooses to use four of the seven girls to tell the story, mainly because hearing form all seven girls in turn would be too confusing, not only to write, but also to read. We still gain a well-rounded picture from the four voices as they all have very different characteristics and language.

They therefore have very different perceptions of the events going on around them; this means that the whole novel is focused on the girls and their experiences, Mr Wroe has no personal voice; the reader only learns about him through the girls’ interaction with him. Because the novel is written in the first person the reader is drawn into the events, and the dramatic beginning with no initial background of the sect, immediately gains the reader’s attention. The different perspectives consist of Joanna, the deeply religious, Hannah the outsider, Leah the opportunist and Martha, the character who benefits most from the prophet and being a member of his household.

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