THE CRUCIBLE – ARTHUR MILLER

"I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history," Arthur Miller wrote of his classic play about the witch-hunts and trials in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts. 

Based on historical people and real events, Miller's drama is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria. In the rigid theocracy of Salem, rumours that women are practicing witchcraft galvanize the town's most basic fears and suspicions; and when a young girl accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch, self-righteous church leaders and townspeople insist that Elizabeth be brought to trial. 
The ruthlessness of the prosecutors and the eagerness of neighbour to testify against neighbour brilliantly illuminate the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence.

­­Spoiler Warning!  This review may contain spoilers.  I do my best to avoid giving away too much but sometimes I get a bit carried away...

I had to read this play as one of my first tasks for English Extension and I was not really expecting much.  I didn’t think it would be terrible but I certainly not anticipating such an earth shattering read.  What shocked me the most was that it is based on truth! 

Centred around the disturbing massacre in 1692, Salem, Massachusetts, The Crucible serves as almost a massive Screw You to Joseph McCarthy and the investigations which took place during the Cold War in the 1950s which aimed to expose communist sympathisers.  Even without knowing anything of McCarthyism, a reader can still be moved by the events of 1692.  This is one of the most haunting stories I have ever read, full of uncertainty, betrayal and deceit, lies, hate and jealousy, looking at society as it has always been, corrupt and divided. 


"We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!"

"You are pulling down heaven and raising up a whore"


Now, to talk about the plot, there is a lot I can say to commend Arthur Miller, his way of feeding off the evidence from this historical event really drew me in and any of Miller’s dramatic additions (and I have heard there are quite a few), go unnoticed, never interrupting the main story.  Miller was both rigorous and attentive in filling all the gaps until there were none left and I can’t help but wish I knew what they were, what was true and what was added.  

The play focuses on John Proctor’s struggle to redeem himself from his guilt of committing adultery with Abigail, and clear lechery from his name.  When Abigail and her friends manage to convince the town that they had been both witness and victim to devil worship they quickly use their newly gained power to condemn those they dislike to death and manipulate the town.  It is then that Abigail, practically writhing in jealousy of John’s wife, Elizabeth, accuses Elizabeth of witchcraft.  



This is where we see the worst of John’s guilt as he blames himself for not just the affair, but also Elizabeth’s arrest, which stemmed from Abigail’s rage, and he shows he is willing to fight to free Elizabeth, even if it means confessing to his lechery and soiling his name. 


"Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!"


The dialogue was beautifully written and I can’t hope to imagine what it would be like to watch as a play; the lights, the sets, the costumes, the beating of the drums in that final crescendo...

This is a glorious and chilling read and I strongly recommend it to everyone a little older than fourteen.  I have found that people who read the play at a younger age don’t fully comprehend the importance of such events and couldn’t connect to it to the extent that I and so many others have.


Rating: 3.5/5



You could probably get your hands on a copy of this book from just about anywhere but, find it cheap online from Book Depository here, or get a the beautiful Penguin Orange Collection edition from Amazon.

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