An American Tragedy: Comparing “The Crucible” and “The Scarlet Letter”An American Tragedy: Comparing “The Crucible” and “The Scarlet Letter”by: Jamie NewlandsTwo American authors, of two distinctly different time periods had onevery similar task, to turn a piece of American History into a believable tragedy.
Arthur Miller with The Crucible and Nathaniel Hawthorne with The Scarlet Letter.
Perhaps one might wonder which author did a better job in doing so, but withsuch different pieces of work, this is hardly a question that can be answered.
Miller’s the Crucible was written in the nineteen-fifties, with adefinite purpose, to remind Americans of the horrible witch trials that tookplace in Salem, even before the American Revolution was a thought. It served asa tool to warn against the same thing happening with the Communist hearingsgoing on in our country at the time it was written. Miller wrote a play, whichwas not well received by the first audiences to witness it, but none the less isnow recognized as one the finest pieces of literature written by an American.
Hawthorne’s the Scarlet Letter was written in the eighteen hundreds,with no other purpose but for Hawthorne to write a novel. Hawthorne perhapschose this dark subject to convey his contempt for Puritanism. He was a manpreoccupied with the hidden sin which is illustrated in not only the ScarletLetter, but also in The Minister’s Black Veil. One might even say thatHawthorne’s ancestry (Hathorne) is what he might consider his own “Pearl”, andthis is why he changed his name.
Like Miller’s the Crucible, The Scarlet Letter takes place in PuritanSalem and has a tragic hero, but these are the only similarities between the twogreat works.
In Miller’s play, the tragic hero is John Proctor, a man whose pridecauses the demise of many women, tried as witches. Had Proctor chosen to revealhis sin of lechery with Abigail Williams before the problem got out of hand, hewould’ve saved several women from being hanged. But Proctor, instead chose tokeep quiet about it until it was his own wife’s destiny at stake, and then itwas too late.
In Hawthorne’s novel, The tragic hero is Dimmesdale, who wouldn’t admitto being the father of Pearl. But Dimmesdale’s silence, and that of Hester’slead only to his own demise. Pearl went on to live a very productive life fullof luxury, marrying nobility as well as inheriting riches of her own.
A person reading Miller’s play and Hawthorne’s novel one right after theother might be tempted to say that the two are similar but this is very much adebatable subject. Although in both works, forbidden love is absolutely centralto the plot, the actual concrete similarities beyond that are few. If these twoworks could be associated, one could associate any two works with a dead guy atthe end and love society won’t allow in the middle. For example, the musicalWest Side Story, The tragic hero is Tony, a young man who has hated PuertoRicans his whole life, until Maria. They meet, fall in love and plan a lifetogether all in two nights, but alas Tony’s forbidden love for Maria and hisloyalty to his friend, Riff, is the cause of his own demise. What person wouldassociate this story with The Scarlet Letter? The similarities between the twoare just the same as those between The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter. BothWest Side Story and The Scarlet Letter have a tragic hero, as well as aclimactic ending where the reader (or the auditor) actually thinks things may goas planned. But, in the end the hero dies and the heroin is left alone. No onewould ever think to associate a musical with such an icon in AmericanLiterature, and in turn, shouldn’t associate the Crucible with it either. Tosay they are so very similar due only to the setting is as juvenile as sayingtwo people must be twins since they are wearing the same sweater.
Though both fine pieces, the Crucible and the Scarlet Letter are notcomparable beyond a very vague look at the settings and plot skeletons of thetwo. One a drama, the other a romance novel. One written almost a centurybefore the other. One might refrain from saying they are similar beyond a verybasic level. English
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