My University Witchcraft literature module brought me to review Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The analysis involves both the original play and the 1996 film adaptation starring Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder.
The play, written in 1953, is set in Salem during the infamous witch hunts of 1692. The Crucible shows how false accusations and lies can lead to the destruction of a society through fear. The accusations of witchcraft shown here are mainly fuelled through uncertainty towards things that are not easily understood, or things that are unfamiliar. Miller’s play was written as a clear allegory for the 1950’s ‘witch hunt’ for communists in America, otherwise known as McCarthysim. However the message of The Crucible is just as relevant today as it was when published.
What happens in The Crucible?
In The Crucible, Reverend Samuel Parris finds the young women dancing naked in the woods. The presence of the devil is suspected to have arrived at Salem, especially when Betty Parris, the Reverend’s daughter, is taken ill. As a god-fearing community, the Christians of Salem simply look to blame the devil. Since the Reverend’s niece, Abigail Williams instigated the dancing in the woods, she looks to blame others for her sins. She leads a group of girls in crying out ‘WITCH!’ against Tituba, the famous black slave of Salem. This leads to a sporadic chain of accusations against members of the community, as it seems as though some characters have noticed they can remove rival landowners and businesses through simple accusation.
It is also revealed that Abigail Williams had an affair with married man John Proctor. After being discovered and dismissed by Goody Proctor, it is insinuated that Abigail simply wants revenge against Goody Proctor. As the play progresses, the false stories and accusations escalate, which leads the deaths and executions of many innocent and vulnerable members of the community.
Is The Crucible Film As Good As The 1953 Play?
Although a film adaptation could never be as good as the original, the 1996 does capture the essence of the original story. With great performances from Winona Ryder as Abigail Williams and Daniel Day Lewis as John Proctor, I’d say the film is definitely worth watching after reading the play. I think the film’s main strong point is representing the hysteria and panic.It almost gets frustrating watching Abigail’s band of lying girls constantly fool the useless Samuel Parris, as well as eventually worming their way through an ‘official’ court trial with Judge Hawthorne. Also, the film helps to visualise the horror and suffering involved in the executions, something that may not translate as well in the play. So, the film isn’t as good as the play, but serves as a good accompaniment to it.
How Does The Play and The Film of The Crucible Represent Witches?
In both the play and the film, the image of the witch is made out to be the outsider of the community. The ‘witch’ is simply defined by how it is different from the community. Whether that be by race, gender or even something as simple as odd behaviour, all of these factors are able to be used as ways of ostricising people. The amount of panic and hysteria that was running through Salem also made it just as easy to inflict blame on those now pushed into the out skirts of society. So, the witch becomes a scapegoat mainly due to their inability to fight back against accusations due to being either in a minority, or an outsider to society.
(NEW) What Does The Message of The Crucible Mean Today?
(Added on 20th November 2016) I’ve returned to this blog post over a year after originally posting to consider how The Crucible is just as relevant today than it has ever been before. The horrifying year of 2016 has brought about the likes of Brexit and Donald Trump. Both events seem built on the process of make outsiders of minorities in order to pass blame from ourselves onto others. We aren’t executing people under the guise of being witches, but figures such as Trump and Farage are indeed whipping up a sense of hysteria within society. By saying that foreigners are to blame, these figures are inciting a sense of xenophobia and racism, that, as shown by The Crucible, are the preliminary ways of society tearing itself apart.
Related Posts – More Witchcraft Related Film/Literature Posts
- Gaudete by Ted Hughes – Book Review
- The Wicker Man (1973) – Film Review
- Weird Sister by Kate Pullinger – Book Review
- The Blair Witch Project (1999) – Film Review
- Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman – Book Review
- The Witches of Eastwick (1987) – Film Review
- The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike – Book Review
22/01/2017 – New Witchcraft Addition Blair Witch (2016)