Caplan is a theatre critic. She argued that "The Crucible" is sexist in its portrayal of women. Consider Miller's presentation of female characters
I am of the opinion that Miller’s portrayal of women is sexist but not to the same extent as Betty Caplan because I am also of the opinion that Miller grants abstract authority to women, their power is entirely un-tangible it lies at the heart of every mans desire - Caplan is a theatre critic. She argued that "The Crucible" is sexist in its portrayal of women. Consider Miller's presentation of female characters introduction. In The Crucible it is the men of the court who are given actual power and authority i. e. they sentence suspected witches to be hung. As Caplan says, “The battle in Salem was about a petrified male theocracy which felt threatened by women. ” What they were in fact afraid of was the persistent denial of their own sexual feelings towards women.
Caplan also goes on to state that the authors of Malleus Maleficarium noted, “These men were extremely agitated at the prospect that witches may work some Prestidigitatory illusion so that the male organ appears to be entirely removed and separate from the body”. If that is not granting women power what is. The ability to strip mans identity from him is what constitutes the bulk of Puritan fears. Parris and proctor alike feel that if they were to surrender their feelings to women they would also be surrendering a part of themselves, which they did not want to give up.
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Miller’s presentation of Abigail Williams is one of my main causes for agreeing with Betty Caplan on the grounds that Miller’s presentation of female characters is sexist. She is introduced as a strikingly beautiful seventeen-year-old girl, an orphan, and she also retains an endless capacity for dissembling. That is how she is introduced and that is how she remains throughout the entire play. She has no grounds for redemption and it appears as though Miller makes no attempt to develop her character in any way.
Caplan also comments on this, “You (Miller) however have damned her from the start and have no compassion for her. When the saintly Proctor cries, `whore`… I sense no revulsion in you… no desire to let her speak the truth. For you, she has none” this labelling of Miller, suggesting he has no compassion for women is perhaps a reflection on the stereotyping miller himself endured whilst growing up. Growing up through World War II and the post war McCarthyism era in America would have led to Miller being constantly labelled and typecast especially as he was born to Jewish immigrant parents.
Miller himself was also a victim of the communist “witch-hunts” in America in 1956 and was summoned before a court and ordered to give over details of all people he believed to be communist or had ever been communist. I disagree with the statement, “Men abused women in the 17th century and Miller is abusing them in the 20th century”. I feel Miller is intentionally creating this sexist approach towards women in his play because I think he is attempting to show how uncertain times can lead to erroneous judgement of character.
In 17th century Salem the town was full of narrow-minded, scared individuals who would not judge people fairly for fear of being judged themselves. I do not think that Miller is ignorant to the fact that Abigail Williams’ character has no scope for development or to his sexist portrayal of her, I instead think that Miller is trying to teach us about the constraints of such a puritanical society and what they can cause certain people to do. Abigail Williams is not a character to which Miller has poured all of his hatred and misogynistic ideas into, as Caplan would have you believe.
I instead think she is a lesson to every reader about being fair, levelheaded and open-minded when judging a character. They should not be judged on religious beliefs or political ideals they should, as Martin Luther King said, “Be judged on the content of their character. ” Something, which everybody in the play fails to do and which I’m sure Miller experienced during the McCarthy era. I think that if the gender of the reader does make a difference to the understanding of the play then in some respects Miller has failed to convey his ideas to a broader audience.
The reason I say this is because if women were to interpret some of the sexist representations of female characters and men weren’t then Miller has failed to make a universal statement, i. e. he is not intentionally defining character through sexist actions and is instead only appealing to a minority of readers. However, I do recognise that people will interpret the play differently overall. Different people will have different opinions regarding subject matters such as the hysteria that Abigail creates in the court.
Some will admire the power of her persuasion while others will be totally amazed at the naivety of Danforth and the other members of the court and jury. The critic Betty Caplan views the hysteria that Abigail creates in court as an attack at womankind, “Roll up, roll up! Come and see girls going bananas and birds materialising in front of their eyes! Come to the circus of female insanity! ” I feel here that Caplan has underestimated Miller’s ability as a playwright and could possibly be playing right into Miller’s hands.
In fact if I were Miller reading this response I would not at all be disappointed instead I would admire how much I have been able to affect a reader. This after all could be exactly what Miller wishes to convey. He perhaps is giving female readers a taste of the prejudice that they would have faced in 17th century Salem. Proctor as a character is the most important part of the play. “Its got to be basically Proctor’s story. ” Miller. It is through Proctor that we are able to see Miller’s intentions and a wide range of Miller’s own thoughts and interpretations. Particularly that of the author’s views towards women.
At the beginning of act 2 we see that Elizabeth has prepared for Proctor a stew which, rather comically (I think) Proctor adds seasoning too when Elizabeth is not looking. Caplan interprets this as Proctor saying Elizabeth is, “not sweet enough. ” I think this is a very valid interpretation of Miller’s intentions and I agree with Caplan but what it also shows is that Proctor is trying to re-build an unstable relationship into a loving fruitful one. If he were totally dissatisfied with his wife he would not have made the effort to get up and “sweeten” the dish in the first place.
The grounds for assuming Miller is sexist in his portrayal of women during this scene has substance, the woman is cooking a meal for the man and not the other way around. However is this a sexist portrayal of women or a realistic interpretation of the role of a housewife in 17th century Salem? I would consider the latter to be more valid. At the end of the play where we see that Proctor is to be taken away and hanged is to me the most powerful statement in the whole play. He does not confess to the court he confesses to God, alone which should be enough if Danforth genuinely wants to save his soul.
But that is not what Danforth wants he wants to parade the power of theocracy around the village by having John give the piece of paper that he has signed to the court. The will enable the evil of theocracy to instil fear into every citizen so they know to comply with religious sanctions and not complain with the injustice of these rulings. So in a sense Proctor is a symbol of defiance he is not willing to let such unfair rules strip him of his dignity he makes a stand and breathes hope into the village, “I am no Sarah Good or Tituba! this hints at a change for the society and is possibly a way for Miller to vent another of his intentions into the play.
He is saying that in a corrupt society if people act in a way, which they perceive to be good in the eyes of God and not necessarily good in the eyes of the powers, at be in the town then there is hope for positive change. Something, which is particularly resonant in today’s society. I think that the allegory, which Miller uses to convey his ideas to an audience, is particularly effective.
It nearly mirrors the events of the McCarthy era in America. Both situations depict a society in which people are often to scared to do what they know is right. As Confucius said, “To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice. ” Something, which Proctor is not a victim of and something that Miller wants every reader of his play to do, I’m sure. Miller obviously feels very strongly about ideas, which concern the world in which he lives. I think he feels that people owe a common duty to humanity.
For example in one of Miller’s other plays, “A View from the Bridge” it concerns itself with the theme of private desires coming into conflict with the moral demands of the community. Something directly related to themes contained in The Crucible because as Caplan agrees the reason for the restrictions in the puritanical society are the fear of men. They are scared of the desires biologically inherent in them which make them lust after women. They repress these feelings in order to appear “pure” in the eyes of God.
As in “A View from a Bridge” Eddie is ostracised by his family for not conforming to the values, which they perceive to be correct, much like Proctor in the eyes of Theocracy. To conclude I do agree with Betty Caplan that Miller’s portrayal of women is sexist however I also believe that Caplan has underestimated Miller’s ability as a playwright and that Miller has intentionally portrayed the female characters in a sexist light as a reflection on the time period, 17th century Salem and to try and highlight the errors of their ways so that the society today does not repeat the same mistakes.
This I feel is Millers main intention in the book to show the errors of the puritanical society as a reflection of the society in which we live today and of the society that Miller experienced whilst writing the novel i. e. the post war, McCarthyism era in America.