During the 1950’s America was very anti-communist, one person suggested there was communist activity in America itself. Once someone had suggested this the whole American government got suspicious and paranoid. Probably the most involved anti-communist politician was someone called Senator McCarthy. He accused the most people out of anyone, falsely accusing many American people.
The list of accused began to grow. Most of the accused were actors and writers, like Arthur Miller, (who was accused.) During the 1690’s in Salem, Massachusetts, something called the Salem witch trials occurred. This is where over 50 people were accused (falsely, again) of witchcraft and dealing with the devil. There was a person named Judge Danforth who accused and sentenced to hang a lot of people. One of the accused was John Proctor, he, like the others, was falsely accused. Salem and 1950’s America are closely linked in this play as there is a huge paranoia in both circumstances, I might add, both irrational paranoia.
Proctors appearances in act one are normally portrayed as him being an outcast, different and stubborn. This sounds like a bad thing but as I will explain this is not 100% the case. Proctor is only an outcast as he is the only one not admitting to witchcraft in Salem, this is shown when he says: “I never spoke of witches one way or another” This shows that he dislikes the talk of witchcraft and hell.
I believe he is stubborn, I can prove that he is by when he says: [after being confronted about the church burning in hell] “Can you not speak one minute without we land in Hell again? I am sick of Hell!” This shows he is stubborn as he will not change, or even consider, changing his mind on witchcraft. These two traits overlap each other, the more people agree with witchcraft the more Proctor disagrees with it. It also tells us that he had an affair with Abigail Williams and that he doesn’t always go to church. This is just the preparation of Miller portraying him as a good man, but not a perfect man; it is showing that proctor is the level headed one in the situation. I think Miller is effectively beginning to compare himself and the rest of accused writers in the 1950’s to proctor.
By act 2 Proctor begins to realise how serious the accusations are becoming, he only realises this as his wife is accused of witchcraft by his ex-lover Abigail Williams. At the beginning of act 2 he is startled when his slave Mary Warren comes back telling him that 39 people have been accused. During trial he gets angry and more passionate about his beliefs that the talk of witches is nonsense. You can see this when he says: [in response to Mary Warren saying the devil is loose in Salem] “I’ll whip the devil out of you!”
This shows that Proctor is so annoyed and shocked by how far the witch talk has gone he is willing to use violence to get some sense into Mary Warren, or even Salem. You really start to see Proctor being presented as a good man by the end of act 2 when he starts standing up for his wife when she is accused of hurting his ex-lover Abigail. You can see him protecting his wife when he says: [when Cheever tells Elizabeth to come to jail with him proctor answers] “She will not!” This definitely shows how much he cares about his wife, even through the troubles of his affair. This is Miller showing him as a good man yet again. I think in act 2 Miller is definitely relating Proctor to himself and Elizabeth to his writer/actor friends.
Act 3 is all about the trial of Elizabeth Proctor. She is betrayed by her friends and co-workers, this is Proctors main time to be shown as a good man. Miller shows this by Proctor admitting to adultery with Abigail Williams. He says: [when john Proctor accuses Abigail of being a whore he replies by saying] “I have known her sir, I have known her.” Before he says this Miller gives stage directions which are “trembling, his life collapsing around him” This is Miller saying that his pride has been shattered by having to admit his disgrace. Proctor then goes on to say: “… on the last night of joy, some eight months past.
She used to serve in my house sir. [Clamping his mouth to prevent himself from weeping] A man may think God sleeps but God sees everything. Please see her for what she is. My wife, my dear good wife, took this girl after, and put her on the highroad…. she thinks to dance with me on my wife’s grave!” This reveals so much about Proctor; it shows he is an ashamed man. So ashamed he would cry, so ashamed he would disgrace his name and family. But more than that it shows that he is willing to cry and disgrace his name just to protect his wife from disgracing hers. This is Millers most convincing showing of Proctor as a good man, I don’t know if Miller did a similar thing to it at the time but it is certainly relating Proctor to him. Danforth is also added to act 3. He is played as a strict judge who was proud to have convicted over 50 innocent-or in his mind guilty -people.
Act 4 is Miller showing Proctor as an extremely proud man. He also turns out to be a very caring man in this act. We can see how caring he is as the whole time his life is at peril, all he worries about is his wife, children and friends, we can see this when he says: “There is no word of the boys?” or “He has lifted her, and kisses her now with great passion.” This is showing us although he has been unfaithful in the past, he is a devoted husband and father and furthermore a good man. Also in act 4 Proctor does the ultimate to what he believes in.
He becomes a martyr and dies for what he believes in. He refuses to sign the confession note for Danforth. The only reason to do this is his pride. Miller in act 4 has just finished off the job of Proctor being a good man; he shows he is passionate, faithful, caring and humble all in one act. The stagecraft is the key to this play. Miller has set it up in such a way that makes Proctor look like a good man. He could have easily set it up for Proctor to look evil. Miller kept relatively quiet the fact that Proctor missed church regularly, he also emphasised him apologising to his wife about his affair, and he did this again to make him stand out as a good man.
This play is an excellent model for McCarthyism; Miller has tweaked the play so that the characters run parallel to what was happening at the time for example: Danforth and McCarthy, Elizabeth and Miller’s co-workers, Abigail and the US government and finally Proctor and Miller. It’s most effective way of modelling McCarthyism is that the whole book is a huge parable to the government to make them realise how ridiculous their charges were. Overall I think this play is very interesting but can get a little confusing at times. It is quite out-dated but that’s what seems to make it work so well. Overall I think it is hugely effective in the way it is set up to embarrass high US officials. A very good play overall.