Character Dynamism in Arthur Miller’s Play The Crucible

The play, The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a dramatization of the historical and tragic Salem witch hunt which saw dozens of people sentenced to death after being falsely accused of being witches. The play is a symbolic manifestation of a society that is hell bent on suppressing and sacrificing individual freedom with sole purpose of maintaining a social order built on traditional Puritan theocracy. Most strikingly, the play is a manifestation of the character dynamism as they put through the crucible marked by catastrophes, events and individuals who test their willpower and determination. This essay will discuss how the willpower and determination of Reverend Hale, Reverend Parris and John Proctor change in the course of the play as they go through the wretched ordeals of a Puritan Salem society.

Reverend Hale is an authority on spiritual matters and a truth seeker from Beverly invited to Salem by Reverend Parris. He is a trained witch hunter whose primary goal is seeing and preserving goodness and light. He is an intellect who walks with weighty books and is a dedicated and ordained minister who is dedicated to uprooting and crushing demonic arts of Satan as a true Puritan. From the onset, he strongly believes there is undeniable evidence that that powers of darkness has taken a stranglehold of the village. As a Puritan minister, he believes in the theocracy that guides the village: the church and state is one and church and societal values overrides individual rights. This is why he initially believes in the infallibility of the court set up by the church to prosecute individuals accused of being witches. He is a valiant fighter of the devil who has taken hold of Salem and the people of the village admire him (Miller 33 – 35).

As the play progresses and Reverend Hale wades through the false pretences and smugness of the townspeople, his understanding of the causes of the mass hysteria in Salem significantly revolutionize his character. He was the stamping authority on the court’s final decision to sentence the women. As he walks from house-to-house with his ominous warnings to the accused women, his initial strong convictions unravel. His perspective changes with the answers given by the accusers of the women. According to Proctor, “I have no witness and cannot prove it, except my word be taken. But I know the children’s sickness had naught to do with witchcraft”. Proctor’s accusations were based on Abigail’s accusations (Miller 68-69). The court does, in its hypocrisy, does not even give fair hearing to individuals such as Rebecca Nurse. They court gives weight to the shady testimonies of individuals such Ann Putnam and Mary Warren instead of considering their outstanding character of the accused.

The list of accused individuals accorded unfair trials piles up and the number of death warrants signed by Hale reaches 72, his belief in the infallibility of the court wanes. His pleas to the court to consider Abigail Williams’ affair with John Proctor during Proctor’s trial are ignored. After realizing that John Proctor is not lying and Danforth has denied him justice, Reverend dejectedly leaves Salem. However, he first denounces the court for its shambolic handling of the trials. He concludes that his involvement in the court’s trials amounted to doing the devil’s work and that the death of the innocent convicts were on his head.  Returning to Salem as a different person, the tortured reverend unsuccessfully pleads with Elizabeth Proctor to convince him to lie so as to avoid the death that he matches to as a martyr (Miller 207).

Reverend Samuel Parris is a quintessential Puritan religious leader. He believes that the bible is the law of God and land and hence should be upheld in all ways possible. He was one of the enforcers of the law in Salem. He believed, as a Puritan, that witchcraft is evil and the mechanization of the Satan. It amounted to total sin and the sinners must be punished according to the law (Discovery Education n.pag; Elmer, Jones and Radler n.pag). He therefore invites the witch hunter and truth seeker, Reverend Hale.

However, the townspeople regard him as a cruel minister of God with sinister motives. Despite the Puritan law and belief that forbade Puritans from “vain enjoyment” as they must concentrate even more upon prayer” (Miller 4), Reverend Parris was sold his soul to materialism. Such vain enjoyments could lead “to destruction by material or ideological enemies” (Miller 7). The symbol of his materialism is the gold candlesticks he owned. While it bothered the townspeople, none had the courage to face him as he was the guardian of God’s law and Salem’s leader. Tituba, his slave, bore the brunt of his cruelty. He screamed at her while Abigail Williams was a victim of his yelling despite being his niece. That John Proctor rarely attends mass because of the hatred he has for Reverend Parris points to the minister’s character. To the townspeople, he is the commander in chief and the high priest of God all rolled in one. His authority in Salem is unquestionable.

Like most of the characters in the play, Arthur Miller puts Reverend Parris in the crucible. The pounding in the crucible creates a character with moral ambiguity that is quintessential of Miller’s character. Miller puts Reverend Parris through a severe test that finally humbles him. The reverend is rendered penniless after being robbed by Abigail Williams who collaborated with Mercy Lewis, her friend. The humbled Parris is sorrowful and modest in defeat. The crucible has stripped him of his commanding tone. At the end of the four-act play, his character has changed drastically. The catastrophe of losing his material wealth changed him and paints character dynamism that resonates with the changes that Reverend Hale undergoes.

In the play, Arthur Miller weaves events together to create character dynamism that extend beyond Reverend Hale and Reverend Samuel Parris. He achieves such intricate task by expertly infusing the events with Puritan values and traditions and the manner in which the characters adhere to them. Such character dynamism is also evident in John Proctor. As a true Puritan, Proctor is a true believer in the totality of sin and the importance of God’s law. He believes in the theocracy that guides Salem. From the onset, he is painted as a tormented soul who has given in to destruction. He has lost his high purpose as stipulated in the God’s law that guides the Salem society (Miller 7).

John Proctor has an affair with Abigail Williams, Reverend Parris’ niece. His soul is tormented and in his mind, his relationship with God is damaged beyond repair. He believes that his relationship with Elizabeth, his wife, has also been damaged permanently. He is not able to muster any strength or courage to forgive or ask for forgiveness from God, his wife and himself. In large parts of the play, he is frustrated by the fact his wife does not trust him anymore. He has played a significant part in the strained relationship with his wife and he resents her for his philandering ways.

He has a good name that has battled to maintain in most parts of the play. He fears losing his integrity, which is his most prized possession. The thought of his adulterous lifestyle being revealed to the public is dreadful and the guilt that will come with it will crash him. But his crucible crushes and transforms him into a new character. He regains his morality and goodness by telling the court the one thing he has always been afraid will tarnish his good name: his adulterous life. He regains Elizabeth’s trust and integrity by willingly sacrificing it in a bid to protect his wife’s honor and dignity. Elizabeth finally forgives.

In the end, John Proctor becomes a martyr and symbol of the suppressive Puritan laws that govern Salem. Even the persuasion of the church and Reverend Hale could convince him slander his newly regained good name. The persuasion of death does not persuade him to soil his name and lose his integrity again. Faced with the gallows, John Proctor is ready to die a peaceful death; a remarkable character transformation. He dies a man brimming with confidence, self-respect.

In conclusion, the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a melting pot of character dynamism. The play is rich in characters that are morally ambiguous after undergoing transformations. Miller puts the characters in a crucible and pounds them thereby molding their character. The catastrophes torture the characters and strip of them of their initial characters. Reverend Hale is one of the main characters of the play. He is a self-confident character who believes in the church and court. His strong infallibility of the system soon transforms into disgust. Instead of signing the death warrants of the individuals falsely accused of being witches, he seeks to save them. Such transformation is also experienced by Reverend Samuel Parris who becomes sorrowful and modest after being robbed. John Proctor’s character is tarnished after having an affair but he dies a martyr after reclaiming his integrity. The characters’ dynamism is intricately interwoven with Puritan values and beliefs on sin, God and law.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Elmer, Steven, Jones, Dallin and Radler, Dan. Puritan Values creating tension in The Crucible. n.p.

Discovery Education. “Salem Witch Trials the world behind the hysteria.” Discovery Education, 10 October 2010. Available: http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schooladventures/salemwitchtrials/

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. New York, NY: Penguin, 1996.