Tsing both Act 2 and Act 4, explore the relationship between John and Elizabeth. Outline how the relationship develops in relation to the wider events of the play. ‘The Crucible’ was written by Arthur Miller in 1952, and was first performed on Broadway on January 22, 1953; the play is based on the unjustified witch trials which took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692- and the mass hysteria which surrounded them. Miller used these terrible events as an allegory for McCarthyism (and the Red Scare), which was gripping the U.S.
A at the time. McCarthyism was a period spanning the late 1940s to the mid 1950s where Americans were intensely paranoid that many distinguished citizens were sympathetic to communism, and were trying to influence powerful American institutions to further the spread of communism. The situation was exacerbated by Senator Joseph McCarthy, hence the term ‘McCarthyism’, who exploited this fear to gain power in the Senate- by eliminating his rivals.
Miller himself was put under trial by the ‘House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities’ in 1956, presumable because of ‘The Crucible’. These trials were unremitting during the time of McCarthyism, and one would have almost no chance of exoneration, due to the illogical reasoning of both the courts and the public; a theme which is prevalent in ‘The Crucible’, in the witch trials occurring in Salem- and the metaphorical trial within John and Elizabeth Proctor’s marriage.
John’s relationship with Abigail Williams could be considered the root of the atrocities which occur throughout the play: Abigail danced in the woods and drank charms because she was desperate for John to love her “I cannot sleep for dreamin’; I cannot dream but I wake and walk about the house as though I’d find you comin’ through some door”; caused the problems in the Proctors’ marriage, “John, if it were not Abigail that you must go to hurt, would you falter now? I think not.
“, and eventually incited the accusations of witchcraft in desperate pursuit of vengeance, “But it is a whore’s vengeance, and you must see it”. John and Abigail’s opinion of their relationship differ vastly; Abigail truly loves John and feels they have a special bond because John “put knowledge in [Abigail’s] heart”; this is a euphemism for John taking Abigail’s virginity- something which was extremely precious in puritan towns like Salem, due to the Christian values of chastity and purity.
However, John saw his relationship with Abigail as nothing more than a meaningless indulgence, “The promise that a stallion gives a mare I gave that girl”; this phrase is an example of the way Miller portrays the relationship as a wild, primal affair. Miller further elaborates on that theme by including a recurring theme throughout the play, where their liaison is likened to that of a stallion and a mare.
Miller uses simile and powerful imagery to reinforce this point with the line, “I know how you clutched my back behind your house and sweated like a stallion whenever I come near”. Miller continues to embellish this theme during Act 3 when John confesses to lechery, “I have known her” (which relates to the euphemism used by Abigail earlier in the play “knowledge in my heart”), apologises for his actions “God help me, I lusted, and there is a promise in such sweat”, and tells the court that they had sex “in the proper place- where my beasts are bedded”.
The courtroom scene in act 3 indicates the extent of Abigail’s power in the town; in the 1600s (especially in puritan towns such as Salem) women had a set role in society and were seen as unequal to men, and furthermore were far less likely to be trusted over a man. What makes this scene so stunning is that Abigail Williams, a female orphan barely above the black slave Tituba in the social hierarchy of Salem, is believed against the word of John Proctor- a very powerful man who commands much respect in Salem. Here, Miller is demonstrating his views of the political climate in the U.S.
A during the time of McCarthyism; Men who had always displayed exemplary humility and achieved great things for America were being accused of being communist sympathisers, and the word of the conspicuous Joseph McCarthy and the rest of the ‘House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities’ was believed over these honourable men- just as Salem believes Abigail Williams over Rebecca Nurse, who is held in the highest esteem in all of Massachusetts “You cannot be Rebecca Nurse?… We have heard of your great charities in Beverley”.