A crucible is a vessel in which metals are heated to extremely high temperatures, melted down and purified. The play, ‘The Crucible’, shows a community which ignites and burns with accusations of witchcraft, mass hysteria and retribution. Set in the small town of Salem Massachusetts in 1692, it explores the struggle of one man with his conscience, and his eventual purification. It is a work of fiction, but based heavily on historical records of an awful chapter in American history. Arthur Miller was a part of this history; he lived through the 1940’s when McCarthyism was sweeping the nation.
Miller was not only intrigued by the witch trial of the seventeenth century Salem, but he was also concerned with the recent events of his time in the USA. He wanted to relate his affairs with those of the people at the time of the witchcraft trials and so he came across writing ‘The Crucible’- a study in the mass hysteria which led to the Salem Witch Trials and an allegory to his own times. The Crucible tells us about the connection between the times that Miller was living in and how they didn’t differ to what happened in Salem in 1692.
He ironically reflects his character in his story as John Procter; a proud dignified man who had nothing to do with the crime he was being charged for but had to suffer to protect his name. Miller conveys his message primarily through the key themes of the Individual vs Collective consciousness and through Evil and Fear. The Crucible is based around two key themes of, Fear- the Salem community belief in God led them to be puritans and dutifully religious. Religion plays an important part of the play as the beliefs in the devil and the spiritual world originate form religion.
During these times in Salem the people also feared witchcraft, being accused of witchcraft could lead to prosecution and denial would lead to death. A further theme in the play is Evil- Salem at the time was heaving with evil. Neighbours, friends and enemies get vengeance at each other by accusing them to be associated with the Devil. This was done to acquire land and, property and even for personal revenge. The devil at the time was a very popular figure within the walls of Salem and caused instinctive havoc.
The two themes mentioned above ironically interlink with each other as the devil is known to be the enforcer of evil and that creates fear in the hearts and minds of the people. Miller uses many stage directions right the way through the entire play. It helps the characters set the mood, the tone and the emphasis on the environment that they are in. At the end of act 1 there is a sense of disorder in the play. Abigail Williams and her friends are screaming ‘Ecstatic cries’ of accusations at the people of the village, building up tension in the play.
They are accusing other of working with the devil so that the attention of the judge falls onto them rather than the girls who were caught red handed exploiting witchcraft. This, in contrast, is met with a quite solemn mood and tone at the start of the next scene when the curtains are raised. Elizabeth Proctor is heard quietly singing to her children. The atmosphere at this point of the play shown to b very calm and tranquil nevertheless there is a hint of tension but this time from the absence of noise.
Miller uses silence as a dramatic technique in this scene to create a feeling of tension. As soon as John enters the stage ‘A sense of separation arises’. Through his and Elizabeth’s pretentious conversation it is evident that none of them want to talk about John’s affair with Abigail that has been recently discovered by Elizabeth. During the time that John and Elizabeth are eating their supper there are long periods of silence. To show the strain in their relationship Miller writes, ‘He eats and she watches him’.
This again results in long periods of silence and creates tension within the audience who are left wondering what will happen next? Throughout this period Elizabeth is not the only one who is uncomfortable, John ‘Drinks a long draught’ indicating that he is trying to keep himself busy, wishing that he would finish as quick as possible so he can get out of there. Elizabeth has her moments to speak but ‘it is as though she would speak but cannot’, she is trying to keep the atmosphere, she doesn’t want to mention Abigail’s name because of the fear of there being friction between her and Jon.