How Does Arthur Miller Create Drama and Tension in Act 1 of ‘the Crucible’?

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How does Arthur Miller create drama and tension in Act 1 of ‘The Crucible’?

The Crucible is a play, which explores the witch- hunting hysteria that happened in Salem 1692. Miller uses this “organized mass-hysteria”[1] to comment on his own similar experience during the 1950s. Through “The Crucible”, Miller is able to draw an analogy between the hysteria of the Salem witch-trails and its modern parallel of the anti communist ‘witch-hunts’ which occurred due to the HUAC-House of un-American Committee, which were lead by Senator Joseph McCarthy; who with the help of the committee were “ruthlessly determined to hunt out communists as the Salem judges had been to hunt out witches”[2]. Miller used “The Crucible” to criticise this unmitigated evil, which led to so many innocent people being wrongly charged.

The play follows how fear of death, The Devil and the unknown causes people to submit to madness and how the sense of guilt which “generally it was a guilt resulting from their awareness that they were not as Rightist as people were supposed to be” [3] could cause them to lose all forms of their common sense and allow for insanity to overcome a whole community.

The abrupt opening of the play, with Betty Parris laid “inertly on a bed” and Reverend Parris knelt weeping and praying, instantly creates tension and suspense for the audience who are unaware of the situations, which have led to this strange occurrence now portrayed before them on the Stage. Parris’s concern and fear of what is happening to his daughter alerts the audience to the seriousness of Betty’s condition and so causes for a sense of drama and tension to further grow in the audience’s minds.

Reverend Parris is powerless to help the child, as is the doctor. 'He cannot find no medicine in his books' (This is inverted sentence structure and can be found frequently in the play). 'He bid me tell you that you might look for unnatural things for the cause of it'. This establishes one of the most important causes of tension in the play. The tendency of the characters to attribute all that goes wrong to the super- natural e.g.: Witchcraft. In the overture to Act 1 Arthur Miller tells us that Salem is under constant pressure from its environment. He tells us of, 'A few, small windowed, dark houses snuggling against the raw Massachusetts winter'. The people had to fight to survive and 'Had to fight the land like heroes for every grain of corn'. The entire American continent stretched around them and contained savages and wild animals. This terrifying environment led them to become superstitious and fearful. In the first act Miller creates tension by showing how the characters become more and more afraid of witchcraft.

Miller creates further tension with the entrance of Abigail and Susanna Walcott ‘a nervous, hurried girl’ who exclaims that the doctor bids Parris to ‘look to unnatural things for the cause’ of Betty’s fragile state. Parris’ reaction alone creates immediate intrigue and tension due to the implications of ‘unnatural’ happenings, his eyes going wide Parris insists desperately ‘No-no. There be no unnatural cause here.’ Such an allegation is extremely disturbing for Parris because of Salem’s theocratic and deeply religious society, anything to do with the Devil and Witchcraft was seen as very serious and would be incredibly dangerous for any persons involved.

Miller’s use of several different techniques to create tension in the first Act of ‘The Crucible’ is very effective as a device to capture the audience’s attention. For example in the first scene of ‘The Crucible’ where Parris is trying to get to the bottom of what Abigail, Betty and the other girls did in the forest. Abigail insists that they were just dancing but Parris is unsure. This first scene makes the audience ask questions like: Is it the witchcraft that it’s rumoured to be? Is Abby telling the truth? And what is wrong with Betty? This causes the audience to become instantly...
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