19 August 2009

The Crucible

The Salem Witch Trials remain one of the most infamous trials in American history. In this notorious legal proceeding, twenty people were executed as suspected witches and one hundred and fifty others were jailed on similar charges due to the testimony of several girls who claimed to have been bewitched. The exact cause of these allegations remains unknown to this day. Was witchcraft really being practiced among the staunch Puritans of Colonial Massachusetts? Or was something else afoot in Salem? Playwright Arthur Miller attributes the Salem Witch Trials to the all-too-human sources of fear, greed, jealousy, coercion, and resentment in his classic drama The Crucible.

I enjoyed The Crucible; although, I must admit, that, like most of Miller’s work, this play does not make for cheerful reading. What really impressed me was Miller’s use of dialogue. I’d read Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and the dialogue in that play is very typical of 1940s New York, where the story is set. I was curious to see how Miller handled the more formal, archaic speech of the Puritans in The Crucible. He did a great job – his characters sound genuine. Miller has a real gift for using dialogue to reveal his characters’ true personalities. Many plays I’ve read seem stilted or artificial because the dialogue just doesn’t ring true. (This is a pet peeve of mine.) Miller knows how to convey his characters’ motivation while remaining realistic and unforced. I was surprised, though, by the way Miller presented his characters. I expected them to be either very sympathetic or really despicable. On the contrary, most of the characters – even those being unfairly condemned – aren’t that likeable. Miller, rather than casting everyone has a definite hero or villain, makes these people far more complex and interesting by writing them with more ambiguity. (That being said, I really did like the old guy who, while being pressed to death to force a confession of guilt or a plea of innocence, obstinately shouts, “More weight!” I love a good act of justifiable defiance. However, if you don’t want to reach into your imagination and throttle Abigail after reading this, you possess far more self-control than I.)

The only problem I had with The Crucible was some of the stage directions in Act One. A few times, Miller breaks off from the dialogue and action to describe (almost as in narration) the background and temperament of certain main characters and draw parallels between the Salem Witch Trials and the Red Scare that dominated the Cold War. I, quite frankly, didn’t see the point in this. I know from reading this play (and Death of a Salesman) that Miller is a talented-enough dramatist to convey this information about his characters through dialogue. I also thought the insertion on the Cold War, though interesting, was forced. It interrupted the flow of the action to me. (Of course, I’ve never seen The Crucible performed on stage as it is intended to be seen. These stage directions may form a crucial part of the play, so I’ll withhold too much judgment on this point.)

Overall, I thought The Crucible was a powerful reflection on honor and honesty. This play, despite its 17th century setting, is easy to read and relate to.

P.S. I have an announcement! It’s not very epic, but I’m starting school today. That means that I’m probably not going to be able to post three times a week as I have been doing. I am going to try to post at least once a week though. I’m thinking it will be on Wednesdays, but I haven’t decided yet. I can’t guarantee that I’ll post every week, but I do have some reviews already prepared, so if I don’t have time to read (Perish the thought!) or type up a review, I still should be able to post something. That’s the plan anyway. Also, since I find it difficult to read really deep, heavy books when I’m in school, I’ll probably start covering more escapist fare…mysteries, horror, fantasy. I’m also planning on reading and reviewing some books that have been released in the past year or two – rather than just the last millennium! I will still be posting on classic novels; I’m just trying to inject more variety into zellakate and save myself from going insane this semester. Finally, Rose, Scott, and Hannah, I want to thank all of you for following my blog and taking the time to read my book-induced ramblings. Before y’all came along, I was basically talking to myself in cyberspace (and I do that enough as is). I appreciate all of you!

P.S.S. I was going to participate in the Kreativ awards, where you name seven interesting things about yourself and nominate seven bloggers for being Kreativ. I didn’t have time though. (Plus, the things I was going to list about myself are just silly - like my fear of frogs.) I did still want to give out some blogging awards though, so here are my nominees for the Zella Kate Amazingly Awesome Awards for being, well, amazing and awesome:
Ergo Humor: Scott gets this, not because he nominated me, but because his blog always makes me laugh so hard that my family gets worried about me.
Shadowland: Rose deserves this for writing some of the most hauntingly beautiful poetry I’ve ever read and uploading amazing images with each of her posts.
I also want to give Hannah a Zella Kate Amazingly Awesome Award for following my blog. (I haven't had a chance to directly thank you, and I wanted to tell you that I do appreciate your support!)


  1. No problem, Zella. I can handle one a week...I think. :S I hope. It may be hard...
    And you know I'm glad I follow you. :)
    This sounds like an interesting play. I've always been fascinated with Salem Witch Trial-era writing, so I may check this out.

  2. Thanks!

    I'm planning on reading some shorter novels too, so maybe (just maybe) I can post twice a week every now and then. I hope so anyway. (I'm also going to use some of the books I have to read for World Lit I because that makes my life easier to use assigned reading for my own purposes - that could free me up to post more often too! So maybe I'll have a Beowulf and Dante's Inferno review this semester.)

    The Salem Witch Trials are neat! (As is the entire colonial period actually.) I've always thought those trials were really fascinating, and that's one reason I read this play. If you like that era in history, I think you'll really like The Crucible. (I thought it was better than Death of a Salesman - and I liked that one.) :)

  3. I wrote my major essay for extension history on Salem and used this as one of my sources. I quite enjoyed it but was really annoyed that he changed Abigails age to suit his plot. Why didn't he just use and older girl? I think when you are writing an historical play you should try to be historically accurate. I had this problem with everything about Abigail.
    But the "more weight" bit is true, which is my Giles Cory is now one of my favourite historical characters.

  4. Penguins Quack, I am so sorry I didn't catch your comment until just now!

    I hate when things are altered for absolutely no reason. It drives me crazy too!

    Hehe I quote "more weight" to myself at random moments throughout my day. :)

    Thanks for commenting!