Aristotle’s Poetics, written in 335 B.C., is a codification of the traits of a tragic hero. As he states in his systematization, the tragic hero must be “someone who is highly renowned and prosperous” (Aristotle 17), making his downfall all the more excruciating for him. Additionally, “he must be true to life” (Aristotle 20), in order to “excite pity and fear” (Aristotle 17) from the audience. Finally, Aristotle states "A man cannot become a [tragic] hero until he can see the root of his own downfall" (Aristotle); he can be a hero beforehand, but to become a true tragic hero, he must experience tragedy.
Contrastingly, Miller’s definition of a tragic hero differs from Aristotle’s; he states that if the individual in question is of “high-bred character alone, it is inconceivable that the mass of mankind should cherish tragedy above all other forms, let alone be capable of understanding it.” Furthermore, “the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing-his sense of personal dignity. Miller stipulates that “tragedy enlightens-and it must, in that it points the heroic finger at the enemy of man's freedom” (Miller). That “thrust for freedom is the quality in tragedy which exalts” (Miller). Lastly, “the possibility of victory must be there in tragedy” (Miller), thus making the ultimate fall more devastating.
The characters of Parris and Danforth illustrate the moral corruption at the heart of Salem’s society and witch trials. Parris embodies self-absorption through his constant evaluation of every development in terms of how it affects his power and status. The Crucible opens with Parris, anxious over the unknown illness of his daughter Betty, viciously questioning Abigail on what might have caused Betty’s sudden ailment. Parris discovers that the girls were “dancing like heathen in the forest” (Miller 7). He interrogates Abigail, who resists him and does not tell him of their attempt to conjure spirits. Parris senses this, and, in fear of persecution, exclaims, “It must come out—my enemies will bring it out. Let me know what you done there. Abigail, do you understand that I have many enemies?” (Miller 8). He is afraid that if people find out that the members of his household were dancing (a forbidden art in itself) and perhaps practicing witchcraft, it will “compromise [his] very character” (Miller 9). Initially, witchcraft is considered a feasible cause, but Parris does not want “leap to [it]”; he fears “they will howl [him] out of Salem for such corruption in [his] house” (Miller 12). But when the idea is suggested to ease the crowd, Parris ignores claims he [has] no answer for that crowd,” and decides to “wait till Mr. Hale,” an expert in the supernatural, “arrives” (Miller 15). The people of Salem begin to say psalms for Betty’s plight, and when she hears the Lord’s name, she covers her ears and begins to moan, giving the impression that “she cannot bear to hear the Lord’s name” (Miller 22); when this idea is suggested to Parris, even though he believes it may be true, he denies it, exclaiming, “No, God forbid!” (Miller 22). After Reverend Hale finally arrives, Parris explains the situation to Hale and states that “a wide opinion’s running the parish that the Devil may be among us, and I would satisfy them that they are wrong” (Miller 24), in order to protect his name and stature in Salem. As more people arrive, including John Proctor, Giles Corey, Rebecca Nurse, and the Putnams, argument breaks out, and Parris is somehow forgotten; as soon as he accused, however, of not preaching God in church, he is suddenly aroused, and exclaims, Why that’s a drastic charge!” (Miller 26). As the discussion begins to make Parris look worse, he begins to accuse the town of not supplying him with enough resources. When Reverend Hale confirms Parris’s fears and states that this is the Devil’s work, Parris, frightened at the prospect that...
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