Topic: “The Magistrate sits in your heart that judges you.” How does Miller treat the theme of judgment (by society and by individuals) in his play?
Arthur Miller, the author of The Crucible was involved in communist activities during the Cold War in the United States which, considering the historical context brought him to court. This demonization of people who expressed different political views materialized by a witch hunt impregnates the play in the sense that the author compares his situation to the one of the hundreds of thousands innocent women that were sometimes killed for the sake of personal satisfaction. This will to label people and call for abomination when someone’s thoughts and opinions differ from social conventions is symbolized in the play with characters like Goody Putnam or Danforth who represent Miller’s personalisation of judgement by both society and individuals.
People convicted of witchcraft belonged to the Puritan society which is known for its severity and its devotion to Christianity. The environment is thus propitious to all sorts of judgements. It is for example the case when John Proctor is asked why he does not attend Church every Sunday: “In the book of records that Mr Parris keeps, I note that you are rarely in the church on Sabbath Day” (Miller 53). Hale here makes an assumption that Proctor is not a good Christian since he is rarely at the church. He does not ask whether John is a good father or if he helps his neighbours, all he cares about is whether he is physically present at the office every week. This emphasizes the importance of the social environment on one’s reputation. Nowadays, in liberal countries like France for example, the factors that determine whether a person is good or not might be his frequentations, his generosity or his involvement in the community. In the Salem of the 17th century, what makes someone a good person is first of all Christianity and the attendance at the Church. Judgement by society depends on the social standards and conventions that create an ideal citizen to which everyone tries to resemble as much as possible. In this precise historical context, this ideal would be a married man with children, all baptized, that would go to the Church every Sunday, respect all of the commandments and work hard on his piece of land without necessarily being rich. Since no one in Salem completely corresponds to this portrait, people judge and accuse each other of not being good Christians. It is in this context propitious to judgement of others that Miller decided to install his plot.
During the Cold War, a terror campaign was led through the United States to demonize communism and the USSR. A Manichean myth was blossoming showing the ideological war that opposed both superpowers as us versus them, good versus evil. The exact same situation is present in The Crucible when in the testimonies and questions from the judge there is absolutely no space for someone like John Proctor who is neither totally good nor evil. From the judges’ point of view, you are either on God of the Devil’s side. People convicted of witchcraft usually confess under torture or because they just don’t want to die. The latter case is usually a lie that permits to escape death but involves someone else’s name. This is for example the case of Tituba who, under the pressure of Hale’s questions names other women who she says she saw with the Devil: “Aye, sir, a good Christian” (37) and “I don’t know, sir, but the Devil got him numerous witches” (39). This example shows all the hypocrisy of people who call themselves good and permit judging others, but when the situation gets warm, they are capable of anything that would save them, including buying their freedom with someone else’s life. It is the same for Goody Putnam whose role in the play is to make a relation to witchcraft to everything she sees. She wants to convict someone for her babies’ death and the arrival of Reverend Hale is a good way to prove herself it is not her fault if she cannot give birth to a vigorous baby. She thus tries to get involved in the inquiry and does not hesitate to give “evidence” of the guilt of whoever is named by Abigail and the girls: “I knew it! Goody Osburn were midwife to me three times. I begged you, Thomas, did I not? I begged him not to call Osburn because I feared her. My babies always shrivelled in her hands!” (39). Goody Putnam never mentioned Goody Osburn’s name before Tituba in the play. This quote shows how some people dare judge others and try to hammer them down for personal satisfaction. Those who like Goody Putnam are not suspected of being evil because they are at the Church every Sunday are, at least in this play, the ones whose soul is the most blackened. This situation can be compared to Miller’s period of time, when people like Senator McCarthy who was far from being exemplar still convicted artists for “un-American activities”. The author fustigates this attitude by giving the reader the impression that Goody Putnam for example or Judge Danforth are simple minded people. Those they convict, like John Proctor or Rebecca Nurse are not perfect but are at least honest with themselves until proven otherwise. Throughout the play, we never see either of them spitting on someone else or trying to bring trouble to anyone. This kind of character might represent Arthur Miller’s ideal; someone that does not permit himself to judge others since no one is perfect. John and Rebecca’s death at the end of the play might symbolise the author’s wish to represent them as martyrs who died for the ideas and moral values they defended and thus bring the sympathy of the reader. The Crucible is a way for the playwright to bring the reader’s attention on how judgements may be dangerous and end up like a snowball effect. The judges Danforth and Hathorne already had their idea on John Proctor when he came to try to save his wife, which means nothing could have twisted his fate. He was condemned to death the minute he entered the court because of Parris’s record of attendance at church.
The judiciary system is represented as obsolete and totally subjective in The Crucible in the sense that the judges do not show any subjectivity and that people are sent to death with no proof of their affiliation to devilish activities. Considering this play is an allegory of what happened in the United States during the Cold War, Miller explicitly criticizes the trials of all those who were convicted of un-American activities. The reason that took Giles’ wife to prison for example shows how arbitrary the decisions taken by the judges were. The judgements were not based on the quality and veracity of evidence or testimonies like for Elizabeth. Had they thought more of it for a second, Hathorne and Danforth could have guessed Abigail might have seen Mary put a needle in the poppet and thus created the whole masquerade that followed. Starting from the point that Mr Parris is a minister and that John Proctor is not considered a good Christian, there is ninety percent of chance that Proctor will lose his trial. The characters of Danforth and Hathorne represent justice as Arthur Miller sees it; a group of pretentious old men who believe almost anything as long as it fits to their opinion. When Hale asks Danforth to postpone John and Rebecca’s execution, all he can answer is that it’s impossible since other people before them have been executed. This example shows Danforth’s incompetence and his lack of arguments which he compensates with a complex of superiority. The judges know their decision cannot be questioned and they do not refer to anyone about what they decided so they are the supreme authority of the court and thus, can decide whatever pleases them. John and Giles’ wish to save their wives with testimonies are vain in the sense that all that appeals to the judges about this list is more names of people who can be convicted of witchcraft. It seems that Hathorne and Danforth want to give ampleness to their trial and thus to their reputations of good Christian judges that do not show pity for God’s enemies. The hypocrisy of this religious centred society arises in the whole play and through many different characters, like the judges who, instead of praying for their soul and truly follow the love messages in the Bible, prefer to execute people who are thought of dealing with the Devil but against whom no concrete proof can be held, for the sake of the Lord’s power. Right before the execution, Rebecca throws a warning at the judges who she knows care more about their glory than following what the Bible says: “Let you fear nothing! Another judgement waits us all! ». According to the holy book, God will decide who goes to Heaven and Hell on Judgement Day, and Rebecca tells John she is confident that because justice was not made in this world, it will be in the other. She is more afraid of God’s punishment than an execution decided by judges who trample His name. This last sentence brings solemnity and a heroic touch to John and Rebecca’s execution. It is thrown like a prophecy, which considering what happened to those who were responsible of their deaths and how history remembers of the Salem witch trials, can be compared to Jacques de Molay’s curse over Pope Clement V and King Philippe le Bel right before his execution. This shows Miller’s will to prove that true justice always triumphs, no matter in what form.
The Crucible can be considered as a radiography of the American society during the Cold War. Fear and terror promoted by the government disturbed the balance of justice in the United States in the sense that according to Arthur Miller, it had reached the level of freedom women who were accused of witchcraft in the 17th century had. The historical context of the play is a metaphor of what Miller really wishes to criticize, and his choice to postpone his problems to another period of time might be a constraint due to censorship. However, the playwright indignation towards judgements, either by society or individuals is highly palpable throughout the story. Miller openly criticizes the hypocrisy of religious people and politics but also everyone who wishes to enhance others’ problems but not theirs. Whether he treats the theme of judgement through personifications or by pointing out the whole paradox of this attitude, Miller does not hide his disgust for insincerity and mockery.