Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” explores the 1692 witch trials in Salem and uses it as an allegory to comment on the regime of McCarthyism. The character of John Proctor, in “The Crucible” is crucial to our understanding of the message of the play and Miller’s aims because Proctor is the flawed hero and his moral attitude seems to reflect Miller’s own moral stance therefore exploring his morals gives us a better view of Miller’s aims. Miller’s message through Proctor drew on the events in Salem to give a comparison to the America he was living in.
America had a great fear of Communism due to the Cold War and a Senator called John McCarthy had set up a House which investigated Americans to find Communists living in America. Similar to the historic witch trials the House used damning and often unfair tactics to manipulate people. By showing John’s reaction to the witch trials and his morality, Miller is able to comment on the McCarthy regime. The biggest similarity between John Proctor and Miller is that when they are accused they both refused to give the names of other wrong doers.
I think Miller uses Proctor as a tool to show the audience his own situation and the conflict between good and evil within himself. In Salem, the Puritan idea of ‘good’ was different from mainstream Christianity, they prohibited dancing, extravagance and had a strict interpretation of the Bible. The belief in witches who had signed the ‘Devil’s book’ was rife. In 1692, Salem suffered from mass hysteria as a group of young girls accused fellow villagers of being witches; John’s wife was accused as was he. This resulted in social upheaval and the hangings of many and it proved that even the ideal society of Salem had problems.
This society was an excellent setting to explore goodness because on the outset it seemed like a perfect civilization where the residents wanted to be as morally good but these events showed a different story and it is important to see why bad morals still remained. This was relevant to compare with America because 20th century America was also seemingly a perfect democracy. John Proctor is presented by Arthur Miller as a tragic hero; a man with many flaws which he overcomes; and also as a proud man who regards his reputation highly.
All these traits are coupled with parallels to give not only a message about McCarthyism but the universal flaws of revenge, mass hysteria, and good and evil in all societies. Miller wanted to explore the flaws which undermined humanity’s goodness because he wanted to give out a message to people about the McCarthy regime. Act Two of “The Crucible” shows the complexity of John’s character and the broken relationship between him and his wife. In this Act Miller presents Proctor as a guilty man who is proud of his reputation.
At the beginning of the scene, Miller uses dramatic irony to show us how Proctor tries to please his wife after his affair. When Proctor enters the room the stage directions tell us that he ‘takes a pinch of salt, and drops it into the pot. ‘ Later when Elizabeth enters he compliments the rabbit by saying: ‘It is well seasoned. ‘ This statement is interpreted as a compliment by Elizabeth and causes her to blush with pleasure according to stage directions. This dramatic irony highlights how Proctor is prepared to find any way to please his wife.