Stories based on rounded, more-realistic characters are often negated because of the idea of them not being as exciting as the latest action film or romantic play. This view applies for the majority of contemporary audiences. If we look deeper into the play it is obvious that Miller has other purposes rather than just the creation of an exciting play. The narrator’s comments at the beginning of Act 1 are critical of 17th century beliefs of where evil originates in society and the way that the villagers live.
The comments give the audience an insight into the hidden agendas such as Abigail’s plot to steal John that help make ‘The Crucible’ an exciting play. The beautiful scenery in the film contrasts the evil and helps to highlight Miller’s criticisms of life in Salem. The audience’s perceptions of evil in ‘The Crucible’ changes. Originally Parris is seen as a good character: he is a reverend, traditionally seen as a good person. He is discovered “kneeling beside the bed, evidently in prayer.Order now
” The audience’s perceptions of the reverend as a good man change when the narrator says “In history he cut a villainous path, and there is very little good to be said for him”. The audience now have an idea of the truth behind the characters actions in the play. Miller’s purpose for doing this is to show how corrupt society is. John Proctor seems like a bad man because he does not attend church. The audience grow to despise Reverend Parris and loyalty for John Proctor continues to grow until the very end.
The real sinner is Parris who plays devils advocate and lies to save his reputation. The real evil is to be found in the hypocrisy of Parris, the injustice of Danforth and the manipulation of Abigail. Hale and Danforth contrast to create tension. Hale’s ignorance subsides as he realises the truth behind what is happening in Salem and the character’s hidden agendas. However, the power placed in Danforth’s hands serves only to increase his insolence, encourage his unfair logic and blind him further to the real witches in Salem.
Danforth is evil in a way different to Abigail. He takes theocracy and autocracy to extremes and his severe misinterpretation of the bible leads to the deaths of many innocent people. Miller challenges the old literary stereotypes of women being portrayed as angels or devils by giving them more complex personas. His purpose for this is not just a criticism of stereotypes but a way of enlightening the audience. The film ‘dumbs down’ Abigail and Elizabeth by simplifying their characters and increasing the Good/Evil contrast therefore enforcing the old stereotypes.
The film adds pathos to Elizabeth’s situation so that the audience feels sadness and pity. Miler’s purpose is to create a greater cathartic effect upon the audience watching the film than the play could produce. Miller uses ‘The Crucible’ to define evil and show what it needs to flourish in any society or time period. At the time of the play being written, The Cold War had the western world shaking with fear. Evil exists in all societies but it could never exist without goodness to juxtapose and compare it to.
In truth the potential for evil is unavoidable and exists in the hearts of all men. Miller’s play was written originally as an allegory for the McCarthyism that swathed 1950s Americans in fear. However, ‘The Crucible’ can be perceived as an allegory for many other events in history such as the cultural revolution during Chairman Mao’s reign of China that crippled the country and took it back many decades economically. Miller intends to show that all that evil requires to flourish in any society is an abundance of power placed in the hands of a few. He states that
“One cannot help noting that one of his lines has never yet raised a laugh in any audience that has seen this play; it is his assurance that ‘We cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise. ‘ Evidently now we are not quite certain even now whether diabolism is holy and not to be scoffed at. ” Arthur Miller shows that despite the advancement of the world over 400 years, religion and superstition cannot be dismissed as possible causes for evil in modern society. This thought provoking quote can make the audience look beyond the drama of ‘The Crucible’ for a deeper meaning.
Perhaps perceiving it for an allegory of their own. History repeats itself and Miller intends to show audiences that society may change, but its base principles remain the same. This is why evil will always flourish. The juxtaposition created by bringing the Salem Witch Trials together with McCarthyism highlights the basis for evil. In 1950s American, Joseph McCarthy was the Judge Danforth. He had all of the power and could decide a person’s fate. Abigail can be perceived as symbolic for all the grudges, hidden agendas and hypocrisy that put many innocent civilians behind bars during the Cold War.
Miller uses characters as a way for audiences to comprehend emotions easily. Abigail is almost a personification for the bad side of human nature. Other characters can be perceived as symbolic for emotions. Elizabeth seems to be the perfect personification of a loving wife. Her first ever lie to save the reputation of her husband John. Her human nature combined with fate leads to his death and this is what makes ‘The Crucible’ tragic. The Director of the 1997 film version starring Winona Ryder develops the portrayal of evil by challenging contemporary evils such as black slavery and child abuse.
His purpose is to raise awareness of evil in modern society and to perhaps prevent them happening in future. The link to child abuse in particular delivers a strong message when recent events such as the kidnapping of Sarah Payne. The film is more graphic in its depiction of child abuse because extra scenes displaying the abuse taking place are added. Arthur Miller’s purpose for this is to bring out more emotion in the audience because 17th century evils do not have quite the same impact that they used to. In conclusion, I do not agree with Tynan’s criticisms.
Despite his comments I believe that beneath the good an evil personas Arthur Miller has used to make an exciting play are complex personalities of people living in an oppressed society. On a basic level Miller creates an exciting, dramatic play. He provokes thoughts in the audiences with his meaningful criticisms of 17th century society and once explained, his allegorical purposes are clear and an audience’s viewpoint on society and its evils can be changed. I am sure that ‘The Crucible’ will entertain people for many years to come.