The Crucible – Characters and Changes
Change is good." We hear the catchy phrase everywhere. From company slogans to motivational speeches, our world seems to impose this idea that change is always a good thing. Assuming that the change is for the better, it is probably a true statement in most cases. The root of this idea seems to come from the notion that we are dissatisfied with the state that we are in, so, in order to create a more enjoyable surrounding, we adjust. Others, however, stray from this practice, and instead of trying to adapt to the people around them, they try and change others.
In the play, "The Crucible," characters are put in tough situations where they feel uncomfortable and they need for something to change in order to resolve the problem. The definition of crucible is actually a "heat resistant container in which materials inside can be subjected to great heat." (Merriam-Webster, 190) This is very fitting for the play because the girls are like the heat on the outside, putting pressure and tension on the adults in the village, who are like the materials on the inside. One of the two categories of people must change in order to resolve the conflict, and three main characters display this need to change more than any others. The first person is John Procter, who changes somewhat through the play. The second is Abigail Williams, who attempts to change the people around her. And the third is Reverend John Hale, who changes quite dramatically through the play. All of these characters recognize that change is needed, but approach the problem from different perspectives.
John Procter is the first person to change in the play. In the beginning of the play, Procter is a very selfish person who would do anything to protect his affair with Abigail Williams. In a dialogue between Procter and Williams, Procter tries to completely rid Abigail's mind of their affair by telling her that "[they] never touched." (Miller, 1184) But when Williams tries to bring out the truth, Procter quickly revokes it: "Aye, but we did not." (Miller, 1184) At this point, Procter will do anything to keep his affair under cover. However, throughout the play, as things get worse and worse, he realizes that the only thing that he can do to stop Abigail's rampage is to admit that he has had the affair. This might seem senseless but he knows it is the only thing that might work. "I have known her, sir. I have known her," cries John Procter in the courtroom. (Miller, 1236) Unfortunately his confession is too late. When they bring Elizabeth, Procter's wife, in to testify against him, she, not knowing, tells the court that her husband is innocent. This puts a death sentence on John's life for trying to overthrow the court. Procter has already undergone a change during the play, as he becomes willing to confess his secret affair.
After John is sentenced to death, one might think that there is no hope for him now. However, the court offers John a pardon if he admits to witchcraft. To save his own life, John signs a document that says he has been practicing witchcraft. But after a change in heart, John rips the paper in half and decides that his living a life knowing that he is innocent would be too much to bear, for him as well as his family. One might ask, why would Procter not choose to lie so he could live? John chooses to die "because it is [his] name! Because [he] cannot have another in [his] life! Because [he] lies and signs [himself] to lies!" (Miller, 1256) Procter chooses to save his reputation rather than his life.
Abigail Williams is different than John Procter. Instead of changing herself, she attempts to change the people around her to keep herself from getting caught. When Abigail was dancing in the woods with the rest of the girls, it was an innocent escapade. But when she got caught, Abigail began to say anything to try and shift the focus of the town away from the dancing, and toward something much more consequential: witchcraft. All of a sudden, Abigail changed from a child playing innocent games, to a manipulative woman, accusing townsfolk of conjuring spirits. Trying to shift the blame to others, Abigail yells in court, "I want to open myself! I want the light of God, I want the sweet love of Jesus! I danced for the Devil; I saw him; I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus; I kiss His hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!" (Miller, 1198) In this scene, she tries to manipulate the court by accusing other people. Since the Puritans during this time period were so paranoid about witchcraft, anyone that was accused of it was automatically stereotyped by most of the people in the town, especially the court. That means that every time they give a testimony of any kind, one must question their integrity because the power of Satan might have control over them. Also, when one was accused of witchcraft, there is no physical evidence to convict, for instance, a person charged with sending out their spirit to harm someone. The only thing that the court has to go on is the power of the word. All of these things are a part of the arsenal that Abigail Williams uses to manipulate and exploit other people around her.
Reverend John Hale is a another person to change in this play. Near the beginning of the play, the Reverend shows up at Salem with large amount of books. He appears very knowledgeable and says that he will get to the bottom of the witch hunts. He relies very much on his and in them lie "... all the invisible world, caught defined, and calculated. In these books the Devil stands stripped of all his brute disguises. ... Have no fear now--we shall find him out if he has come among us, and [he] mean to crush him utterly if he has shown his face!" Hale's determination to rid the town of witchcraft is unstoppable. However, through the play, he becomes less and less involved in the actual trials, and has more time to step back and look at everything that is happening. In this, he finds truth. He finds that, when you stop accusing people every time you hear the word witchcraft, many of the townsfolk are indeed innocent. At the end of the play, he encourages John to sign his name on the paper, confessing to witchery. At the end of the play he is pleading with Procter's wife, trying to convince her to tell John that it is foolish admitting to something you did not do. "Woman, plead with him!" John screams. "Woman! It is pride, it is vanity. Be his helper!--What profit him to bleed? Shall the worms declare his truth? Go to him, take his shame away!" (Miller, 1256). Here Reverend Hale realizes that Procter's confession to witchcraft is completely false, and that there is no shred of evil in the things Procter has done. Hale undergoes a complete change from a person who is accusing people of witchcraft left and right, to a person who is trying to defend innocence at all costs.
The circumstances in this play transforms many characters in their outlook in different situations. By now, you may have a different perspective of the phrase "change is good." Is it always good? Abigail tried to wrongfully accuse people of witchcraft? To who's benefit is that? That phrase will not be 100% correct, all the time. In some case it can be true, but in others, change can destroy lives.
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