My opinion on the Crucible is the same for any play that I’ve ever read or had to read. It’s simply a play that I cannot get into. More simply, it’s boring and had been unable to grab my interest even in the most ‘exciting’ parts, such as John Proctor arguing Governor Danforth over his admission to practicing the dark arts with the devil. This is simply because most of the play is dedicated to bickering between parties and nothing ever actually happening. We don’t get to see any hangings, we don’t get to be there as crowds of people plea and cry and die. We miss all of that in favor of accusations. While I understand this is because the play chooses to rely on the narratives of a small group of people, it also does a very poor job in introducing these characters. Often times we’re shown new members of the play that other characters know and acknowledge without any prior knowledge of what they do or their relationships with any of the other characters. We can only infer and assume up until the play decides it relevant enough to reveal certain aspects of the character’s story.
My main issue lies not in the storyline itself; in fact that’s the Crucible’s strongest aspect, but the introduction to the work as a whole. It thrusts us right into the action with reverend Parris caring for his sickly daughter named Betty. Rather than showing us what happened to her, we’re told that she and Abigail were caught dancing in the woods. It’s unknown why this is such a crime up until later when we learn that dancing was associated with the Devil (if I’m wrong, understand that I can only guess at this point). Now, normally I’d enjoy being thrust right into the action, but quite frankly this is executed so poorly without giving us enough information. This issue could be easily solved, however, if the play had started off with the girls dancing in the woods instead of cutting straight to the sickliness of Betty. Had it started off then, we’d get a good feel of the way the girls trust each other and even get brief introductions of major players in the story such as Abigail. However, we’re stuck with the sickly daughter introduction and so we must make do with what we have instead of focusing on what could have been.
So, we get a sickly daughter. After the introduction of Parris we’re shown his true, cruel nature. He’s shown not the care enough about his daughter to rival his feelings towards possibly being looked down upon by his fellow villages. Parris is a very weak character, I feel, because most of the play is spent showing us just how evil and greedy he is, but never really showing us if he has a reason as to why. It just appears as though he’s a bad guy simply for the sake of giving us a bad guy. He is the eventual catalyst that leads to the massacre known as the Salem Witch Trials, so I suppose I can understand why he’s shown to be such a wicked character, but then that’d be more reason to focus on him because of the important role he plays in the whole situation.
After we’re shown Parris, we’re given yet another pair of characters who lack any sort of character development, Tituba and Betty Parris. Now, at first Tituba is shown to be a very promising sort of character. She’s foreign, a slave, and believes that she has magical abilities. She tries to raise the dead spirits of the Putnam’s children and create a sort of love potion for the girls to use on the guys that they fancy. These at first appear to be very strong attribute to a very strong character, at least to be. She’s believed to have special powers and is the slave of the character Parris. However, this all falls short and she disappears for a good majority of the play after the first scene when she is turned in by Abigail under the allegations that she is, in fact, a witch.
Our second character named Betty Parris is the daughter of reverend Parris. She falls ‘ill’ early on in the play and when she recovers, her role in the rest of the play falls short of maybe five more lines of dialogue. Betty is revealed to have been faking her sickness all along by Abigail. That is all that remains of her character. She is only very important in Act One, and suffers from what many other characters suffer from; Lack of Development syndrome.
I think the most ignored character out of this whole situation however, would be Cheever. He begins simply as a man who goes about the town with warrants for suspected witches. He’s generally a weak character because of his lack of background. We are only able to assume that he was once a friend of Proctor’s, but that when the events of the witch trials began, he turned against him and his family in order to hold the law. He takes on the roll of a sort of scribe for the judges later on. After doing a bit of research, I found that Cheever, in some representations of the play, is actually the man who hangs John Proctor. Had his role as John’s friend been more apparent in the text, I’d say it would be a very fitting way to end the play; with two friends turned against each other in both of their attempts to maintain what they believe is right.
Despite most of the characters being weak, the storyline itself is still very strong having been rooted in truth to begin with. The play does its best to tell the story of the witch trials while simultaneously providing us with a commentary on the McCarthy Era and what it was like to deal with McCarthy. It doesn’t take much to connect Abigail to McCarthy as it’s clear that she is made to represent the politician in the cruelest way whilst remaining very honest to the real goings on in Salem.
If one looks hard enough into the play, you’d even see the John Proctor character as some of the victims during the McCarthy era that declined to answer any of his questions. Initially, he was threatened because he didn’t conform to what was commonly believed. John gets jailed for this. He is promised salvation at the cost of his public name near the end of the final act. John refuses to admit that he’s a witch publically, similar to how a brave few refused to answer McCarthy’s questions. This leads to John becoming a sort of martyr in his own eyes as he believes his death will – hopefully- end the witch hunts.
Although the story did, overall, flow very well, there were a couple of pieces that went against this flow, namely the gigantic walls of text that preceded a new act. Although they did provide important background information to those who weren’t sure what the witch hunts were, they also harmed the flow of the overall story. I believe this could have been handled in a better way such as simply presenting the history in the story using new characters.
The flow was also severely harmed by the spastic jumps made into the future such as the jump from accusations to the trials without so much as providing the background information to some of the other accused. I believe if we had been able to see the executions take place and understand the absolute horror presented in these accusations I think we’d have been able to feel just how some of the villagers felt. With that, we’d have a better understanding of the whole situation.
Ultimately that’s what the most important thing about the Crucible is. I just didn’t believe in most of the characters. Some just felt tacked on in order to fill a certain roll, others weren’t even presented to the audience, but even that was superseded by the mere fact that it didn’t feel as though it were life or death in the town. There wasn’t enough action, the story was presented in a smooth, yet flawed, manner, and the mood in the town of Salem didn’t seem to fit quite right for me. I feel as though they didn’t focus on the others’ plights, their families, and their experiences, but rather focused solely on the experiences of John Proctor and those around him, which gave us a very limited view.
I’d say that the play, as a comparison between the Salem Witch Trials and the McCarthy era, was a success, but as a narrative on the dark side of human nature and the history of the witch trials themselves it just wasn’t up to par. It fell short and didn’t tell a good enough story to match the sheer brutality, gruesomeness, and pain that these trials caused.
Perhaps this was what it was meant to be; as simply a comparison between the McCarthy era, the witch trials, and the similarities with his communist accusations. However, this doesn’t mean that a good story can’t be told while using all that is at your disposal. If one didn’t live during that era and was simply reading or watching the play, they would miss all of the undertones beneath the witch trials; and for these people they must be entertained in order to keep the play. Now, I’m not saying it’s entertaining, but I am saying that a lot of potential was wasted with this. It’s a good story, it’s a good play, but it could’ve been a great play and a great story.
Could you imagine if the play was written in some of the ways that I described? With more fleshed out characters, a more important plotline, and a grimmer, darker, feeling that focused not only on a specific set of characters but on the plights that belonged to everyone in the town. I see the play as a sort of narrative on the dark side of humanity, namely greed. Everyone did what they could to save themselves despite that being against their beliefs. It also shows the good side, though. Within Mrs. Proctor we see her apologize to John for how cold she had been to him. She doesn’t shovel all of the blame on John and instead takes it onto herself as well, sharing it between the two of them. This shows just the pure love that she had and all that she was willing to sacrifice. Her attempt at protecting John is admirable, but when this also damns John in the process we see just how evil can easily overcome the good by simply being merciless.
All in all, it was an alright play. I understood it, I understood the undertones, but it just wasn’t what I was expecting. The play was certainly a magnificent piece of work for focusing on the McCarthy era, but for providing entertainment it simply isn’t the best. If I were to rate this on a scale of 1-10, I’d give it a seven. Not bad, not amazing. But I was certainly disappointed.
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