"The Crucible" Critical Analysis

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Arthur Miller has argued for years about the historical truth surrounding The Crucible, and defined its trans-historical subject as a social process that includes the Salem witchcraft trials and the anti-Communist investigations of the fifties. Though The Crucible is unrelenting in its opposition to the authoritarian systems represented by Puritanism and McCarthyism, its use of historical material and the position on moral tyranny, which it projects, seems far more complex than criticism on the play would suggest. Miller's play is not interested in proclaiming a moral verdict, either on historical or on contemporary events. It does not want to instill a moral by analogizing between experiences, on which we have already reached a consensus, and contemporary problems, from which we may not have the distance to judge. Indeed, as Miller himself has stated, "life does provide some sound analogies now and again" (Budick 127-132). Miller's play is an argument in favor of moral flexibility. The fundamental flaw in the natures of the Puritan elders and by extension of the McCarthyites is precisely their extreme tendency toward moral absolutism, " You must understand," says Danforth, an important character in The Crucible, " that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between." Miller is interested, though, not only in establishing the fact of such absolutism and condemning it, but also in isolating the factors, which cause the rigidity, which he finds so dangerous. He is anxious to propose avenues of escape from the power of an over-active, absolutizing moral conscience (Budick 133-139).

The problem with the play is that the characters have not admitted humankind's worthless powers of moral judgment. They have not accepted in their hearts that God alone can render judgment on humankind. The characters of the play—all the characters, not just Danforth and Hawthorn—have mistaken themselves for God in a way. For...
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