The Crucible: How is tension created and maintained between John and Elizabeth, and how does their relationship change?
Miller’s roman a clef play is based on the many deaths in 17th century Salem due to false witch accusations but is actually protesting against the McCarthy witch hunts. The McCarthy witch trials were trialling many people for the invisible crime of communism. America was extremely nervous of communism and many people were convicted of this crime, many of them innocent. Arthur Miller himself was accused of being communist and he was even denied a passport to attend the premier of his play in Brussels. Arthur Miller was so concerned and moved that many peoples lives were being ruined for these unjustified punishments, he wrote the Crucible.
Miller connected the McCarthy witch hunts with the witch trials in the 17th Century. In both events he saw paranoia turn into complete hysteria as officials dealt out harsh punishments without any cause Within this play Arthur Miller explores how panic can be built up to such a high level and how it can have catastrophic consequences. He also plays on the way young children can be just as cruel and un-compromising at getting what they want as adults. At the beginning everyone believes the girls to be nothing but good people doing what is required of them.
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However, as the play goes on we can see how their aims are not as pure as they appear to be. We can also see how lust plays a major part in the girls’ deceit. It is Abigail’s desire for John Proctor that causes so much suffering. Most of all Miller explores the difference of relationships between now and then. We see how a lack of communication leads to mistrust and can soon break down a relationship in John and Elizabeth’s relationship. At the beginning of the play Abigail and other girls are caught dancing nakedly with Tituba and it is assumed they are working for the Devil.
They admit to it and so their lives are spared but they also accuse others of being witches. Abigail, who had an affair with John, still has feelings for him and so she accuses Elizabeth, John’s wife, of being a witch. John Proctor goes to the court to appeal against this. John tells the court of his affair with Abigail and the court is on the edge of uncovering the girls. Elizabeth is brought in to testify that Johns claim to having an affair with Abigail is true but she denies it, trying to protect her husband. The girls then succeed in accusing John of being a witch.
When it is time for John to hang, Elizabeth is sent to him to try to get him to confess as this would save his life; he almost does but in the end he decides not to admit to witchcraft and to save his dignity. Elizabeth survives because she is pregnant and the court can’t kill the innocent baby. Before writing the play Miller looked at the historical records of the time to find a real couple. John Proctor and Elizabeth are real but many parts of the play are fiction. In reality John is sixty and Abigail is eleven when the play is set and so it is very unlikely that they ever had an affair.
This means that John and Elizabeth’s relationship did not progress as in the play. Without John and Abigail’s affair John and Elizabeth would have lived a normal married life. Therefore, it is used to represent the attitude of the time between sexes. Whilst writing the play, Arthur Miller used a lot of the court records from the time. From this he saw how people spoke and he used this throughout the play. In his autobiography Timebends Miller describes the language as hard and gnarled. He came to love this use of speech and has even elaborated on some of the grammatical eccentricities such as double negatives.
A lot of the language used is very biblical and makes many references to the bible. Elizabeth describes Abigail’s effect on the court as like “parting the sea in Israel”. In the play the actors use a distinct English accent. This is because, although the play was set in America, it was too early for the distinctive American accent to have developed. Indeed, most of the actors speak in a Northumberland accent which is spoken through clenched jaws. Even before Act II starts the audience knows much about Elizabeth and John’s relationship.
We know from Abigail that John has had an affair and that Elizabeth knows about it because she threw Abigail out. More than that, we can clearly tell that John is very protective of his wife and loves her a lot as he says in reply to Abigail’s comment that Elizabeth is sickly “You’ll speak nothing of Elizabeth” in an angry voice. It is also likely that John’s anger is at himself which shows he is very ashamed of what he has done. The stage directions tell us a lot about the atmosphere and the upcoming scene both directly and inadvertently.
They start by setting the scene “The common room of Proctor’s house, eight days later”. This already tells us that John is withholding his information as it is eight days since he heard Abigail tell him her actions were nothing to do with witchcraft. It then describes the room as low, dark and rather long. This could be a metaphor for John and Elizabeth’s relationship. It also sets the atmosphere for the beginning of the scene as very oppressive. Above Elizabeth is heard gently singing to their children. This imprints a caring loving picture of Elizabeth in the audience’s head.
We also note that they have a family together and therefore do, or did, love each other very much and had quite a long relationship. John then walks in carrying a gun. This enforces stereotypical roles of a husband and wife and also gives us a sense of how long ago the play is set. We quickly notice a pattern of speech at the beginning of the Act. They speak little and in short sentences as though they are worried about offending the other if they say too much. They make short snappy points and conversation is obviously very hard to start up.
We also get a sense of Elizabeth wanting to bring the subject round to what he was doing and why he was late as she says, “What keeps you so late” and “You come so late I thought you’d gone to Salem this afternoon”. John replies to this by lying. He says “Why! I have no business in Salem” which is a lie as he just went to Salem. He does not want to displease Elizabeth by saying he went anywhere near Abigail. There are many examples of each of them wanting to please the other. At the beginning John offers to buy a heifer for her and follows this comment by saying “I mean to please you”.
Elizabeth says it hurt her heart to strip the rabbit for John and blushes when he complements her on it. However, in an effort to please each other John says the stew is “well seasoned” whereas we know from the stage directions he added some salt as he wasn’t happy with the seasoning. This would only happen in a troubled relationship as in any other the truth would have been fine to tell. We can also see that Elizabeth is making mistakes she would not normally make whilst trying to please John such as forgetting his cider and neglecting to bring flowers into the house.
The conversation then turns to the Salem Witch trials. We see Elizabeth try to convince John to go to court to tell them it is all lies. She wants him to do this mainly so that he shows he has no feelings for Abigail. However, John is left much undecided because he does not want to be accused of being a witch and he does not want his wife to be brought into it. Elizabeth takes this as a reluctance to see Abigail as he still has feelings for her. She then questions him and he admits to have been alone with Abigail when she told she lied about working for the devil.
John’s anger is now rising and he soon starts telling of how he feels he has been treated since the affair. Here the tension at the beginning of the Act is broken as the two start arguing. John starts speaking more freely and speaks in long sentences as he has a lot to say. However, as soon as Mr. Hale enters the room the couple act as though nothing had happened. They obviously don’t want anyone to know what is happening but it also means that they want to stay together and that they still love each other and want to show a unified front.
The stage directions throughout the scene reinforce the couple’s speech, in particular we see John going to kiss Elizabeth which reinforces his desire to please her and we see Elizabeth receiving it but without kissing back. “He gets up, goes to kiss her. She receives it. ” Here we see Elizabeth mistrusting John on the surface but deep down she still wants to please him. In contrast, soon after, we see Elizabeth turning from him and standing with her back to him. He looks at her and we clearly see their separation. Her turning her back on him shows us that she has momentarily given up on him.
The two look confused as they don’t know how to handle this situation. Throughout the scene we constantly see stage directions that show us they are either trying to please the other or trying not to anger them, “Holding back a full condemnation of her”, “She doesn’t want friction” and “Quietly, fearing to anger him by prodding”. The scene in which Elizabeth is brought before the court in Act III is the potential turning point in the play but it is also the most important scene in Elizabeth and John’s relationship. When Elizabeth enters the tension starts to increase. We can tell that by this time the court is very close to making a decision. Now we shall touch the bottom of this swamp”. When Elizabeth enters we know the courts decision rests on her answer. John is certain she will answer truthfully and so uncover Abigail’s plot. “She have never lied. There are them that cannot sing, and them that cannot weep – my wife cannot lie”. By using the words cannot and never which are absolutes John shows his confidence that Elizabeth will tell the truth. The fact that John is so certain means that if he is let down it will be even more crushing. This raises the tension as it makes the audience even more desperate that Elizabeth will tell the truth.
Danforth then tells us what would happen if she did tell the truth “and if she tell me, child, it were for harlotry, may God spread his mercy on you! ” Now we know that after Elizabeth’s answer there will be no more debate and a decision will have been made. This again raises the tension as we want Abigail’s plot to be uncovered and we know that if Elizabeth answers wrongly Abigail will get her way and there will be no turning back. As Elizabeth enters the room the audience watches her with bated breath. Everyone in the room except for John and Abigail turns to watch Elizabeth.
She can sense the tension in the room and knows her answer will be important “sensing a situation” so she gets nervous “(faintly)”. This nervousness makes the audience doubt John’s confidence in her telling the truth which creates much tension. We then see how Millers stage direction enhance Elizabeth’s dilemma, “With John and Abigail in front of her on either side both with their backs turned. ” This may symbolise how Elizabeth feels about the two. Their backs are turned to her as they both betrayed her. They are ahead of her to show they both have moved on and she is in the middle to show she is what is separating them.
Also it leaves her on her own as she can be offered no help by either. We can see she needs help “She glances at Proctor for a cue. ” “She turns to Abigail. ” This creates tension as the audience really wants to help her and for her to answer truthfully but they can’t help her. As she gets more agitated Danforth takes a sterner approach with her. “Reaches out and holds her face”. This makes the audience even more nervous she that will say something against her nature and lie. As she becomes more agitated throughout the scene the audience also becomes more and more nervous causing the tension to increase throughout the scene.
When she finely answers we can still see she is not sure about her answer and is worried it might be the wrong one “(in agony) No sir”. This answer, although condemning many people, shows she has begun to forgive John as she chose to be loyal to him before her own beliefs and morals. So for Elizabeth it is a final realisation that she still loves John and would do anything for him. For John it is recognition that Elizabeth is not completely perfect, as she lied. This brings her back to a level plain for him so he can relate to her much more.
It also showed him that she has forgiven him and so he can now start to forgive himself. “I do not judge you, the magistrate sits in your heart that judges you”. In the next scene Elizabeth and John come together, Elizabeth is asked to convince John to lie and admit he is a witch. If he does not he will be hung. The importance of his decision is the main thing that creates tension in this scene. It is also created by John’s indecision as we do not know what he is going to say. This tension is prolonged and maintained by Elizabeth’s refusal to give him a final answer “do as you will”.
And John keeping on asking “would you give them such a lie”. The audience wills Elizabeth to tell him it is ok to confess it but she will not. The tension is then heightened as Elizabeth shows us what she really thinks “and yet you’ve not confessed till now. That speak goodness in you. ” She believes the good answer would be not to lie and give his life. This creates tension as the audience now know if she does give him an answer it will be to sacrifice his life for his honour. During the scene the relationship between John and Elizabeth develops from their last appearance together in Act III Scene II.
Elizabeth believes that John’s problem is that he cannot forgive himself rather than she can’t forgive him. We can see John has not forgiven himself by his belief that he is “a fraud” and a “no good man”. She tries to give him space to make his own decision and so giving him the chance to redeem himself “Do as you will, do as you will. ” This creates a big dilemma for John as he wants his life but it would mean sacrificing his name and dignity. He eventually decides against confessing and in so doing, he redeems himself to himself.
Although there is nothing to suggest he has forgiven himself, he now feels worthy of being equal to Elizabeth. Elizabeth also sees she too has some failings “John I counted myself so poorly made, no honest love could come to me! Suspicion kissed you when I did; I never knew how to say my love. It were a cold house I kept. ” In saying this she shows her forgiveness toward John as she acknowledges his affair was partly her fault. We can know see the two have put their troubles behind them and it is clear that they both love each other “he lifts her, and kisses her now with great passion”
The play teaches us, Miller thinks that to be open and say what is on your mind is very important in a relationship. In Act II both have been struggling to live together for six months because neither will say what is on their mind. Elizabeth won’t trust John because she has not brought the affair up and asked him to prove himself. John kept his feelings that Elizabeth was being too harsh bottled up and finally at the end of Act II they confront each other and say what is on their mind.
This eventually brings about their reunion and renews their trust in each other by the end of the play. Unfortunately for the pair this was too late. If it had been brought up earlier Elizabeth could well have told the truth in the court room as she would not have felt the need to show her loyalty to John. We also see in the play many connections to the McCarthy witch hunts. We see how he believes the political climate to be pervaded with deceit as with Abigail’s lies to the court. Also by making John die at the end he shows how much suffering can be caused by false charges.