The Crucible – How does Arthur Miller use dramatic devices in Act 1 Analysis

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What does this reveal about Miller’s concerns about society?

To fully explain how Arthur Miller used dramatic devices in ‘The Crucible’ we must investigate what the question means and why he used dramatic devices and in which context. To do this, it is necessary to investigate the main characters used and how it affected the witch hunt on the Salem society and consider what the term ‘dramatic devices’ refers to. Dramatic devices are elements of a play, which allow the writer to build tension or other intended effects. These effects influence the actions of the play and the response of the characters and audience. Let’s start off with some history of what ‘The Crucible’ was based on and why Arthur Miller wrote it. ‘The Crucible’ was obviously based on the Salem Witch Trials and was written in 1953.

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The play’s theme of hysteria and fear within average citizens is similar to that created by Joseph McCarthy in 1950, often called McCarthyism. McCarthy was responsible for creating fear in America that Russian Communism would take over the world thus crushing the American Dream. Miller was disgusted by the way that people were forced to name names, and in response to this he decided to write ‘The Crucible’. Miller noticed the parallels between the witch hunts of the 1600’s and the present day McCarthyism situation, and wrote this play in response. Miller’s intentions are very clear in the play. It is a parable or a lesson taught by means of a true story, investigating and re-creating the events which took place in Salem.

In 1692, hysteria ran through the community as a consequence of allegations of witchcraft amongst its members. Dozens of innocent people were hanged; to avoid hanging, once convicted on the evidence of children alone, the accused had to confess and to accuse others of this crime. This shows that the story obviously suited Miller’s purposes exactly. Miller wants us to see Salem and the events which took place in it, not as an isolated example of collective hysteria, but as a metaphor for what can and does still happen when individuals allow their judgement to be clouded by totally irrational fear and return to their primitive ways of life e.g. pointing the finger away from themselves.

Miller made the key characters in the play so that they are not unique; even in the twenty first century we can recognize them in our own society because he wanted it to be obvious to his audience how we react to these problems and go back to our primitive ways. Miller relates to the victims in ‘The Crucible’ and the McCarthy trials to make a point to McCarthy. They both have many similar aspects. The accused were not fairly tried and were convicted on limited evidence. During the witch trials the girls would point at someone they disliked, and accuse them of practicing witchcraft. It did not matter whether they were innocent or guilty, since they were accused, they would be convicted.

Arthur Miller used stage directions in act one of ‘The Crucible’ to create the impact of suspicion and mystery. With Reverend Parris, Miller did this to emphasize the characters main dilemma in the play which is the threat to Parris’ power in the community that his niece (Abigail) has caused. The stage directions used at the start of act one when Parris is praying fervently over his daughter indicate that the room is quite dark with only a candle burning and sunlight through the window lighting the room. The significance of this is to show the audience that the stage direction (a deliberate dramatic device) builds tension to the atmosphere and sets the mood for the play. Parris is frightened, confused and angered by Betty’s illness, perhaps wondering what he has done wrong to be inflicted with such misery. This is shown by the way he prays, then weeps and then starts praying again as if he is unsure even of his emotions.

He is very tense and is quickly angered without provocation, for example when Tituba inquires about Betty he turns on her in fury and shouts at her to get ‘out of here.’ He then starts to sob and in his fear he starts to mumble to Betty to wake up.All these movements and actions are dramatic devices used by Miller to emphasize Parris’ situation .This is then doubled when a feeling of inadequacy is expressed through his fragmented, disjointed sentences. ‘Oh, my God! God help me! Betty. Child. Dear Child. Will you wake, will you open your eyes! Betty, little one…’ By doing this, he is using the language as a dramatic effect. When an unnatural causes are mentioned ‘his eyes grow wider’ as a result which suggests he is frightened of the idea. He represents crass stupidity and selfishness and he is a man with ‘very little good to be said for himself.’

Parris finds his parish and reputation more important than his family when he says ‘And I pray you feel the weight of truth upon you, for now my ministry’s at stake, my ministry and perhaps your cousins life.’ to Abigail. As he mentions his ministry before the life of his daughter it suggests that it comes first and is therefore more important to him. We are made aware that he has cut a ‘villainous path’ and that ‘he believed he was being persecuted wherever he went’ makes him sound almost shifty and hard to trust. . Reverend Parris questions his niece Abigail’s purity by saying ‘Your name in the town-it is entirely white, is it not?’ She argues that her name is not soiled. The people of Salem are obsessed with preserving the perceived cleanliness of their souls.

Reverend Paris has joined the community in the recent years and has made changes within the church to the dismay of many people. Paris is not liked by some because they see him straying away from the traditional ideals of the Puritan church/lifestyle examples: his placing of gold within the Puritan church which broke away from Puritans due to their extravagance, his wanting to own the house the congregation has provided he and his family with, this is something no reverend before him has done; and also requesting for higher pay which already included all of his yearly expenses. Paris appears to be an egotistical man who is more concerned with his reputation rather than the ‘illness’ of his child. Paris’ personality causes many to turn away from him and his church which will ultimately affect their fate. Reverend Parris is the type of character Miller created to represent people who agree with McCarthyism. This is because we are shown that he would follow the crowd if the situation could benefit him. Many people followed and accepted McCarthy’s ways to avoid being accused and so did Parris in the play.

When we are first introduced to Tituba, it becomes obvious that she has a very low status because ‘as always, trouble in this house eventually lands on her back.’ This shows us that Reverend Paris has little regard of the human rights for the Barbados slave and is racist towards her probably because her culture is different to his and so he is uneasy about what she could be saying/doing without him knowing about it. Also at the start of the act, we see Tituba ‘already taking a step backward’ when confronted with Parris. This movement represents her fear of Parris and his control over her. By doing this she is showing him respect. Arthur Miller used this stage direction as a dramatic device to describe the low status she has and build tension around her character.

This act begins the witch hunt. Tituba was persuaded by Ruth Putnam and Abigail to cast spells and create charms. Then Abigail Williams turns on her. She has been accused of conjuring up spirits with the girls in the woods. Even if she wasn’t doing Barbados rituals it would have been highly unlikely that anyone would have believed her because of her status. Tituba is accused of being a witch and so in order to save herself she has to admit to there actually being witches in the community. In an attempt to make what little status she has higher she states that she is ‘a good Christian woman.’ She does this firstly to avoid being hanged and secondly because more people would believe her if her culture and religion is not as different from them.

Arthur Miller chose Tituba’s speech so that it is apparent that she is trying to fit in with the community. This is shown by confessing and trying to be part of the community by mimicking other characters ways and words she escapes her death. Tituba represents the type of people who where innocently blamed for being Communist in the McCarthy era. This is because ‘trouble in this house eventually lands on her back.’ People who were or were blamed for being Communist often had no choice but to confess and betray others or leave their own life and country in search of a new job. This would have proved a very difficult situation which Tituba would have experienced because she would have had to confess or betray others herself.

When Reverend Parris’ niece Abigail, described by Miller as a ‘beautiful girl with an endless capacity for dissembling’ enters, we can sense what kind of character she is. The word ‘dissembling’ indicates that she can have false appearance and is able to disguise her own character and is therefore not to be trusted. Abigail’s character in the play is a defensive girl. She is always defending her reputation and herself to get out of trouble. We are also shown this with Abigail when the use of ‘willingly’ shows that Abigail is able to play situations to her advantage. By doing this the audience can see how manipulative she is able to be and therefore what she is capable of. Abigail was expelled from the house by Goody Proctor, therefore she has little standing in the village.

After she was caught dancing in the woods, Parris questioned her name and she replied angrily, ‘Be no blush about my name.’ Later, when Hale was questioning Abigail about dancing in the woods, Abby defends herself, ‘I didn’t see no Devil’, and she points to Tituba, taking herself out of the spotlight and trouble. Abigail ‘quavering as she sits’ is a dramatic device used to make the audience identify with her fear and to make Parris believe her. By doing this, she is manipulating Parris into thinking that she is innocent and therefore had done nothing wrong. However Abigail is intelligent and manipulative as we are shown with Parris. Abigail is a character made to represent McCarthy himself because Abigail has achieved the potential to have power over many people.

The tension is built up at the start of Act one when rumours of witch craft are first heard around the community of Salem. This gradually builds as more and more people are involved and know what event had occurred. This led to hysteria at the end of the act where Abigail realises she has power over her accusations when ‘it is rising to a great glee.’ The use of ‘great glee’ implies that Abigail, this ‘wicked’ girl is enjoying her control and new status. By accusing others, Abigail gained high status as whoever she blamed could be prosecuted. McCarthy was also able to have this much power over people.

To conclude, Millers moral ideas addressed in ‘The Crucible’ are obviously that the McCarthy trials were wrong and unfair. His views were that it was unjust to accuse people of communism on such small and fluky samples of evidence and that people shouldn’t be able to have enough status to do things in that power. Miller showed these views clearly in ‘The Crucible’ where Abigail is able to abuse her status as an accuser to get her own way. Arthur Miller chose to present his views clearly to a large audience and risked the danger of being accused of being a communist supporter.

The course of action that he took was risky as the play included contexts which related into his world well; that when in times of pressure people can often return to their primitive nature by pointing the danger away from themselves. The effect of his philosophy must have shown many people of his era what was going on without making it overly obvious what his direct intentions were. If the people of his time came to realize why he was then questioned for being communist they may have guessed why. Arthur Millers philosophy was that the McCarthy trials were not morally right because there was little evidence to suggest that hundreds of the people accused of communism were guilty.

Miller used dramatic devices in ‘The Crucible’ to influence the opinion of the audience by using relevant stage directions, body language, movement and expressions throughout the play to illustrate how different characters respond to the accusations. The roles of Abigail, Parris and Tituba reflect Millers sense of truth and justice by comparing them with the different types of people who were present in McCarthy’s time and how they reacted to the trials. Miller has achieved this by using dramatic devices. The momentum Arthur Miller built in Act One of ‘The Crucible’ was to show what devastating havoc could be created by false accusations.

By the end of the act, to the audience’s eyes the amount of accusations already seems almost ridiculous; however the same thing was happening in Miller’s time when so many people were wrongly accused of being communist. The effect of his work could have led to changing society in Miller’s own time, revealing how out of hand the McCarthy trials were becoming to the public. He showed his concerns about his own society through his play ‘The Crucible.’

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The Crucible – How does Arthur Miller use dramatic devices in Act 1 Analysis. (2017, Nov 07). Retrieved from

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