The Crucible–Arthur Miller

This play is really quite terrifying; I cannot think of any other way to describe it. This is the first time I’ve heard of the Salem Witch Trials, and when exposed to this book it brought to mind The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne which was also set in Puritan 17th century Massachusetts. In it, Hester Prynne is accused of adultery and is made to wear an ‘A’ as a manifestation of her sin– it becomes weight and symbol. But it is the people around them, the public, the crowd led by a few especially wicked¬†individuals that are the drivers of that hysteria, and in both The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter it is they that are really the villains and antagonists. I suppose that that these terrible punishments are sought in the name of morality exacerbates the horror; evil is evil, but when it masks or deludes itself into believing that violence should be done in the name of good is more frightening. It would be interesting to examine the psychological elements of this, in which people feel their ethics and beliefs are so precarious as to need to unload their fears this way. It reminds me of Achebe and what he said in one of his responses to Conrad: how colonists needed affirmation of their civilization’s superiority, and needed to define the object of their hatred/fear in direct opposition to themselves. It just goes to show that really, everything is internal; there are rarely external threats, only those that are conjured up by strange mutations of fear. Also curious: that the most seemingly self-assured people are really the most twisted (such as Danforth); their authority is derived from the uncertainties of others, especially the uncertainties of the best and most morally upright people.

2 thoughts on “The Crucible–Arthur Miller

  1. Christina Hendricks

    Yes, good point that if one has to be so stringent against possible evils, or violations, or criticisms of one’s views or beliefs or practices then this indicates a sense of precariousness, as lack of confidence. If it were that easy and common for the devil to take hold (or communism), then what does this say about how strong or right they felt God (or capitalism) were? Or perhaps, they felt that the people around them weren’t strong enough to handle possible other views or criticisms, while believing that they themselves could. But the vehemence seems to belie a deep lack of confidence in themselves.

    Or perhaps we could view it like Beauvoir or Fanon might: we need to set up the other as different, as not-us, in order to be able to feel a sense that we are good or right because others are bad or wrong. And anything we might (even unconsciously) find in ourselves that we dislike we try to project onto the “other” to expel it from ourselves. I think Freud would agree with that possibility (if I remember correctly, he says something similar about projection; but it’s been awhile since I read that so I may be misremembering).

    Thinking of it that way, maybe Okonkwo’s great fear of being like his father gets projected onto his son, whom he thinks he sees his father in. Maybe Okonkwo takes the “feminine” aspects of himself, projects them onto Nwoye and tries to beat them out of him. Just an initial thought.

  2. Koby

    i agree that the most frightening type of evil is not that which is obviously so- deceptive maliciousness seems more terrifying. I guess this ties into the innate human fear of the unknown. General mystery can be very unsettling.


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