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The Crucible Essay, Research Paper
Back in the 1950’s, when insecurity permeated the air, and people were ruled by fear, Arthur Miller wrote a play, which defined the line between insecurity and fear. The Crucible was a remade story of the carnal Salem Witch trials, in which many innocent victims lost their lives. Through this play Miller is trying to convey the message that death is not in our possession; we are not messengers of God. Only God decrees those who are to die, because God is in heaven and we are on Earth and we cannot read his will. Despite this fact, those harsh souls in The Crucible believe that the courts are messengers of God and their decisions are divine. In many cases such as that of the Salem Witch trials the results can be devastating.
The Crucible is a heartfelt tale of agony and devotion. Throughout Salem’s struggle for justice and purity, the townspeople are faced with a question, “Are we really messengers of God?” Everyone handles the question differently. Those of the town who are in positions of power, such as Judge Danforth, doubt themselves, but must admit to being true messengers of God for the sake of political hierarchy. Danforth admits this in his lecture to Reverend Hale, “Postponement now speaks a floundering on my part; reprieve or pardon must cast doubt upon the guilt of them that died till now.” (Miller, P.124) He also follows through in his position of power in admitting he was just in his actions of punishment, “While I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering.” (Miller, P124) Judge Danforth backs up his cause with a biblical reference demonstrating his utter belief in his cause, “Mr. Hale, as God have not empowered me like Joshua to stop this sun from rising, so I cannot withhold them from the perfection of their punishment.” (Miller, P125)
Others, not leaders in the hierarchy, like Reverend Hale, must take a different stance to the posed question. Being more spiritual than he is political, he takes the position that we are not messengers of God, for he has seen what power and political stance do to one, even though he originally sided with Danforth on the matter. Even after Danforth’s rebuke, he still is able to muster a response that we, the officials are wrong, “Let you not mistake your duty as I mistook my own. I came into this village like a bridegroom to his beloved, bearing gifts of high religion; the very crowns of holy law I brought, and what I touched with my bright confidence, it died; and where I turned the eye of my great faith, blood flowed up. Beware, Goody Proctor-cleave to no faith when faith brings blood?” (Miller, P126) Hale discovers in his life that misguided faith causes one to believe he has the right answers. Yet, neither of these officials are native to the town. If one examines the characters of the town, they all seem to hide their feelings on the question. This is probably a hidden message being conveyed by Miller, that here in a theocracy, it wasn’t alright to have misguided faith, for in their terms that was herecy. Finally, close to the play’s conclusion Elizabeth Proctor faces the question and states, “I am not your judge John, I cannot be.” (Miller, P132) Elizabeth believes God is his own messenger and we cannot act like Him, specifically being a judge. Clearly, there is a distinction in the response to the question of our representation of God. Edmund S. Morgan in his Historicity of The Crucible comments on this question, “It allows us to escape from the painful knowledge that has informed the great religions, knowledge incidentally that the Puritans always kept before them, the knowledge that all of us are capable of evil.” He continues, “The glory of human dignity is that any man may show it. The tragedy is that we are all equally capable of denying it.” Morgan seems to be saying a syllogism of the sort: All men are capable of evil; Messengers of God, according to Puritan belief, are incapable of evil; therefore, men are not messengers of God. It seems as though Morgan sides with Elizabeth Proctor and Reverend Hale in this respect, that messengers of God are incapable of evil, but one detail was overlooked. In Puritan society, the court system and its members were a separate entity from the people at large. Judge Danforth was a member of the court system and therefore could still be a messenger of God even if Elizabeth Proctor and Reverend Hale were not, because of the puritan belief of a Godly court system.
That opinion alters in the minds of the townspeople later as they see the results of the trial proceedings. They begin to have a certain cynicism towards the court system. Throughout the witch trials, the so-called stamina of the courts is tested. They must discover the truth of who lies and who stays true, but must also represent their stance in Puritanism. Judge Danforth is constantly plagued with these questions especially when highly respected members of the town are accused of witchcraft. After his wife has been taken on charges of witchcraft, Giles Corey comes to Judge Danforth in hopes of clearing his wife’s name. Danforth scolds him and says, “Do you take it upon yourself what this court shall believe and what it shall set aside?” (Miller, P.81) This rebuke is a clear statement by Danforth that his word, the law, is just, and no one else can deny it. After a continued argument the judge augments his point so it is clear that his word is the law of God and must be for no one is so carnal when he says, “And do you know that near to four hundred are in jails from Marblehead to Lynn, and upon my signature??And seventy-two condemned to hang by that signature?” (Miller, P.83)
After seeing the court sentence so many to death, Reverend Hale, who works with, but not for, the court changes his mind about the court’s divine providence. He expresses his extreme distress to Elizabeth Proctor and tries to convince her the court can be wrong by trying to pose to her the hypocrisy of the situation, “Life, woman, life is God’s most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it.” (Miller, P.127) Richard G. Sacharine examines this issue of court superiority and the very nature of a theocracy: “Salem was theocracy-a system of government incorporating the principles of a state church and presumably acting as the temporal arm of God. It is a system under which dissidence cannot exist, for to be in opposition to religious leadership is punishable by civil law, and disagreement with the government becomes heresy.” (Sacharine on Society and Oppression in The Crucible) Apparently, anyone who challenged the court or theocracy was a dissenter and had to pay the penalty. As Robert Warshaw in his article “Arthur Miller’s Political Message” commented on Salem’s witch proceedings, “Anyone who tries to introduce the voice of reason is held in contempt.” Proven by its later downfall, a society ruled as a theocracy cannot exist.
After seeing that people are not messengers of God nor is the court, Salem only has one more possible direct connection to God. Can they read God’s will? Much of Salem was split over this issue. Most of the time they are intent on the belief that they either have a premonition of God’s will or that they can actually read his will. Salem was in conflict over this because they believed that if they could read God’s will, then they could take revenge on people by admitting their sins and blaming others while still retaining a clear conscience. Sometimes characters’ opinions even changed halfway through. Reverend Hale was an example of this. Initially, he believed the idea of people being able to read God’s will to be true, but later his mind changed and he decided that all the deaths were in vain. His first attitude is expressed when he defends his line of work, “Goody Proctor, I do not judge you. My duty is to add what I may to the godly wisdom of the court.” (Miller, P.65) However, later on as the ugly truth reveals itself, his opinion changes and he says, “Woman, before the laws of God we are swine! We cannot read His will!” (Miller, P.127) This strong change of fate in which Hale realizes there is a clear distinction between God and humans has no impact on any in the town but himself. Other characters in The Crucible, however, do not change their minds but are firm from start to finish. Elizabeth Proctor sides with Hale’s later inclination and firmly believes we cannot read God’s will. In her last speech with her husband she states, “It is not for me to forgive, John, I am?” (Miller, P.131) She demonstrates her belief that she cannot forgive her husband for his sins, for she does not know if God wants them forgiven. Danforth once again, as a high political leader and an official of the law, sides with Hale’s first opinion that we can read God’s will. He says, “While I speak God’s law, I will not crack its voice with whimpering.” (Miller, P.124) Judge Danforth is sure that God’s will is open to him, and willing to challenge any and all who oppose him. David Levin in his article “Early and Modern Witch Hunts”, comments on Reverend Hale’s change, “At the beginning of the play, the Reverend Hale announces fatuously that he can distinguish precisely between diabolical and merely sinful actions; in the last act the remorseful Hale is trying desperately to persuade innocent convicts to confess falsely in order to avoid execution.” He and many others obviously find Reverend Hale’s change quite radical. After much debate, all the characters, even those officials of the court, have doubts in their mind as to whether or not humankind has a tangible connection with God.
The Crucible, with its accompanying themes has far reaching implications for us today. Does our connection to God alter our moral actions? For example, if we, humans were messengers of God as Danforth said, how could we enforce capital punishment. If life is God’s most precious gift, who else can take it away but him. Apparently, in The Crucible, Judge Danforth was wrong in his belief. In today’s society, the belief is not popular that the court system has divine providence. Maybe because they are proven wrong in certain cases. Many times, it happens that an innocent person is proven guilty or that a killer walks free. If this is divine providence on the part of the court, then our morals have been wrong from the start. Finally, if one thinks that people can read God’s will, why are there so many murders and innocent people dying, just as in The Crucible? The answer is simply that we cannot, because God is in heaven and we are on Earth.
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