The Crucible is seen as a political parable that compares two “awful chapters” in American and human history. The play is based on the Salem witch trials in 1692 which is parallel to the events that took place in 1957 during the McCarthy political “witch hunt” McCarthy set up the “House Un-American Activities Committee” which became paranoid in its search for communist sympathisers in America. Arthur Miller as a modern playwright achieved this comparison well even though he believed that the critics didn’t fully appreciate the point of the story.
The purpose of the play as Arthur Miller expresses is to show “the conflict between a man’s raw deeds and his conception of himself; … and what happens when (conscience) is handed over not merely to the state or the mores of the time but to one’s friend or wife”. This shows the reader/audience that problems aren’t only confined to the rich and powerful but a common mans failure is just as moving and tragic. The courtroom in Act three is a crucial point in the play where each character is put under pressure and this exposes each of their weaknesses.
The effect of the tense courtroom environment forces the audience to speculate on the reactions of all the characters. By doing so Miller shows that you cannot always dictate human nature or behaviour. For instance, John Proctor’s mood in this scene rapidly changes; he goes to the court to plead his wife’s innocence and to support Giles Corey and Francis Nurse. The court refused to hear their testimony and Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse were sentenced to be hanged. Elizabeth is pregnant and her trial was adjourned but Proctor is overcome by a sense of loyalty and chooses to help his friends. This shows Proctor has good morals and principles.
The events that occur in the courtroom are more climactic than any other in the play. One of the few instances where the audience can predict what will happen is when Proctor confesses. This is because of the events leading up to the end of Act Two. Courtrooms are the perfect setting for problems to explode because courtroom dramas are full of accusations and confessions. This makes events and circumstances unpredictable which only heightens the drama. Miller uses a courtroom to play out Proctors confession because it heightens the drama. This makes the outcome of the court proceedings equally as shocking.
In my opinion, the events in Act Four are not as tense as in Act Three because the truth has been revealed and the characters are just left to deal with the consequences of their actions. This is not as dramatic as the events in Act Three because all the characters decisions have been made so there is no more pressure or tension. The literal meaning of the word Crucible “is a pot that metals and other substances can be heated in it at very high temperatures”. This is interesting because in Act Three Miller explains the relationship between the title and the story when Danforth says “we burn a hot fire here, it melts down all concealment”.
The courtroom symbolises a Crucible in the sense that the purpose of a courtroom is to force the truth to come out. The truth creates tension and which makes people react in strange ways. For example, Danforth is forcing Proctor to tell the truth. Proctor is weakening under the pressure of Danforth’s questioning because he is feeling guilty and ashamed of having an affair. John relies on Mary Warren’s testimony but he fears that she will turn on him out of fear of Abigail Williams. Abigail’s presence clouds his good judgment and rationality because he is overcome by shame and guilt.
Abigail’s behaviour is the main reason Proctor “breaks” but also the petition proving the innocence of Martha Corey, Rebecca Nurse and Elizabeth Proctor didn’t impress the court and they demanded the names of those who signed the petition to be questioned. This distressed Francis and Proctor. However Proctors temper flares again when Giles Corey is arrested for refusing to give the name of the person who made accusations to him about Thomas Putnam. Abigail’s plea on page 88 forces his hand and at this moment all the attention is on Proctor and the audience await his response.
The actions and words of the main characters in Act Three are dramatically effective and significant to the rest of the play. In this scene Abigail Williams has the most power because she is controlling the court through manipulation and deceit. Proctor is the only person who can see Abigail’s corruption. He describes: “the little crazy children are jangling the keys to the kingdom”. Abigail uses mass hysteria about the devil to cloud the courts logic and reasoning. She indulges in play-acting to keep control of the situation.
She seeks to gain power and will destroy anyone who threatens to stand in her way i. e. Elizabeth. On page 88 when Proctor confesses she feels her power base slipping away because she doesn’t anticipate it and her first reaction is denial “Mr Danforth, he is lying”. Proctor has the power to ruin Abigail and for this reason she attempts to divert the courts attention. Abigail’s affair with Proctor awoke her sexually and she has power over him, this is where she first feels in control and finds that she enjoys it.
She doesn’t want to be a “covenanted Christian woman” she wants to run her own life without having to follow society’s rules and feels that she is an exception. For this reason she tries to corrupt the theocratic society so that she can live the life that she wants. In Act Three she shows the full extent of her power over the court and she tries to control Danforth in the same way she has controlled others, “if I must answer that I will leave and I will not come back” this response to Danforth’s question was unexpected and it momentarily shocks him.
She won’t answer him because she refuses to yield control and if she responds he will know that she’s lying. She also knows that Danforth will not answer back to her so “she turns and starts for the door” this shows the full extent of her power. She takes a chance but when she starts to leave she incites Danforth’s wrath “you will remain where you are! ” At this point she is helpless for the first time in the play and the audience would enjoy watching her lose power.