‘Theme’ is a universal idea presented in a literary piece of work. There are many themes in the masterpiece of Arthur Miller, The Crucible. Themes of this play not only shows the problem of witchcraft during the late 19th and early 20th centuries but also exposes the dark sides of human nature. Some of the major themes have been discussed below.
Themes in The Crucible
Reputation is one of the major themes in the play, The Crucible. Most of the characters of the story strive hard to maintain their reputations. The prominent example is John Proctor, who hides his affair with Abigail. He fears it will harm his reputation in the society. Even in the court after confessing his crime, he tries to save his name. Judges of Salem are also biased, as they uphold a false reputation to honor the church. They believe that they make the right decisions and hesitate to accept any evidence which could have set innocents free. It is evident from John Proctor’s case, as the delay in his confession makes him a liar in the court.
Hysteria also upholds thematic significance in the play because the society in Salem is engulfed in the accusations of witchcraft. The rapid growth of hysteria in Salem destroys the impact of rational thinking. Act 1 of the play starts giving clues of hysteria when Abigail tries to escape from the harsh judgment blaming Tituba of witchcraft. The existence of evil plot creates tension in the town, as the people do not find any fault in punishing the accusers. Hence, they believe that women were truly guilty of witchcraft and chose to punish them without an inquiry. Often mass hysteria numbs people’s mind and makes them vulnerable.
Power and Authority
The desire to attain power serves as blood for the people of Salem. The pillars of traditional power, the church, and the court worked in unison. The judges exercise their absolute power by rejecting Proctor’s rational explanation and punishing him and acquitting the girls, who are guilty. Progress in Abigail’s character, from an orphan teenager to the witness of a sinister plot, highlights the theme of power in the play. From a helpless girl, she becomes crafty and capable of destroying innocent lives through such accusations.
The theme of guilt is related to the progress in John Proctor’s character in the play. He is ashamed of the infidelity committed in the past and wants to bury it deep in the heart as if it never existed. He fails to relegate his guilt to the background. In reaction to this, he turns against Elizabeth, accusing her of being judgmental. In reality, his sin is responsible for his mental confusion. Hale also becomes the victim of his guilt, as he once believed people engaged in witchcraft are sinners. However, as the play progresses, he considers them innocent and tries to save them. Thus, the theme of guilt plays an important role in shaping and reshaping the characters in the play.
Portrayal of Women
The women’s portrayal in the play is not of a typical Victorian era. They are not portrayed as servants to men, mothers or wives. Miller presents them keeping in mind the attitude of the society toward women in 1950s when writing The Crucible. The most prominent character, Abigail, portrayed as a promiscuous young woman, represents a few women during that period. She is selfish and becomes extremely revengeful when John leaves her. On the contrary, there were many women like Rebecca, a nurse, who chooses to sacrifice herself over false statement. Again, a few women held false standards of feminity like Elizabeth, John Proctor’s wife, in the society of that time.
Deception and lies present another important theme that runs throughout the play. It does not include myths related to black magic or witchcraft. It includes lies that people tell to save their false reputations in society. The girls of the town tell lies in the court thinking they can continue this by deceiving others. Putnam deceives the innocents to take control of their lands. Proctor deceives Elizabeth and himself by keeping the secret of his adultery in his heart to secure his false reputation. Therefore, deception and lies in Salem serve as a tool to achieve what is desirable.
Goodness also serves as a major theme of The Crucible despite the deception. People in Salem intend to look genuine in the eyes of society. Proctor suppresses his guilt and does not reveal the truth before the girls just because he wants to be a good person. Abigail, when tries to confess about witchcraft following Tituba’s example, lies to prove herself good. Elizabeth is also portrayed as a good character, but toward the end, the acceptance of an affair reveals the truth about her nature. Therefore, the concept of goodness plays a vital role in the play.
Another major theme in the play is judgment. It is seen through the characters of Danforth and Hale. Danforth, a deputy Governor, sits for judgment against the accusers of witchcraft. Although he knows that most of the prisoners like Martha Corey, Elizabeth, and Rebecca Nurse are not witches, he believes his decisions are absolute and refuses to change his mind even after having proof of their innocence. Hale, on the other hand, does not care about the rules. In fact, he intends to save the people. These incidents happen when people consider themselves the custodians of justice and fair play.
Another important theme seen through the character of Abigail is jealousy. She plots the whole blame to rekindle the affair with John Proctor. While Proctor does not want to continue the life of sin and leaves it behind as the forgotten tale, she exacts revenge from Salem and despises Elizabeth Proctor. She also threatens the girls that if they are going to disclose her secret of witchcraft, she will murder them on a dark night. Hence, jealousy gives birth to hatred and consequential evil deeds against others.
During the play, various characters face false judgment and intolerance. The play shows prejudice of the characters for others such as in the court and at the time when someone is accused of witchcraft. Second, The Crucible also presents a theocratic society where the Church and state are one, and no one can go against this system. The beginning of the play foreshadows intolerance in Salem when some outcast women are accused of witchcraft. Everyone turns against them without any proof. The situation becomes complex when reputed persons of the town are caught for the same guilt. Ironically, they also receive the same treatment as the outcasts.