Study of Women in Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible'
How Are Women Portrayed in “The Crucible?”
“You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet!” is a line in Arthur Miller’s 1953 play entitled The Crucible. The Crucible criticizes the McCarthy era, by writing about the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials. There are various similarities between the events in The Crucible and the McCarthy era. Such examples would be that in the McCarthyism era is that senator “Joseph McCarthy made unsubstantiated claims that more than 200 card carrying members of the Communist party infiltrated the United States government”, for which he had no proof. Much like in the play the girls claim witchcraft, for which they have no proof.
More similarities include the fact that these unsubstantiated claims by McCarthy “ruined lives and increased hostility. In the Crucible the girls unsubstantiated claims ruin lives and lead to increased hostility in Salem”. “In the McCarthyism era accused people were assumed guilty, placed on trial, and expected to reveal the names of other Communist sympathizers”. If you didn’t you’d be sanctioned. “In the Crucible those who are accused are assumed guilty, put on trial, expected to confess, and expected to accuse others of being witches. If you didn’t you were killed”.
Women weren’t to “participate in town meetings and were excluded” from decision- making in the church. “Married women were not allowed to have property, sign contracts, or conduct business”. Their husbands owned everything, including the couple’s children. In the Puritan society, there was a strong urge to marry. Those who did not were ostracized. Women during the time of the “Salem witch trials” were ranked low in the puritan hierarchy and were expected to submit themselves to their husbands. “Family-oriented” women such as Elizabeth Proctor and Rebecca Nurse are the less powerful women that emerge through the text. However, the opposite type of woman who is a liar, thief, remorseless, manipulative person such as Abigail rises to power. The question of “How are women portrayed in The Crucible?” will be answered by examining the different types of women of in the play.
Ann Putnam is introduced as a weak minded “twisted soul of forty-five, a death- ridden woman, who has had the misfortune of suffering three miscarriages”. She differs from other characters in that rather than condemning others of witchcraft, she accuses people in attempt to find an answer for the death of her unborn children. Elizabeth Proctor adheres to the Puritan’s beliefs of being a submissive woman. Although John Proctor commits adultery with the housekeeper Abigail Williams, she still lies for him in court. Elizabeth is so supportive she blames herself for something she wasn’t involved in, all attempting to spare her husband’s life, “I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery”. When Danforth said, “To your own knowledge, has John Proctor ever committed the crime of lechery?”, she replies, “No, sir” to save her lying, cheating husband. She’s also a morally good character in that knowing Proctor has committed lechery which could damage her family name, but she still motivates him to tell the truth in Act 2. In conclusion, Elizabeth Proctor is a good wife who is somewhat passive aggressive as pointed in text.
Rebecca Nurse could be viewed as a monarch for a true, genuine example of a woman with a high sense of integrity. Rebecca Nurse isn’t naive, doesn’t allow people to step on her, and stands up for what she believes in. When she is accused of witchcraft rather than passing blame such “as the other women of Salem, she defends herself” and consistently says that she is innocent. When asked by Danforth to confess, she says, “Why, it is a lie, it is a lie; how may I damn myself? I cannot, I cannot”. Unlike the other female characters in the play, she doesn’t lie to save her life, she died knowing the truth.
Abigail Williams is the key antagonist in the play who is ranked pretty low in the Puritan society. Unmarried teenage girls were amongst the lowest social ranked individuals. The only person in the society who is ranked lower than Abigail is Tituba, the foreign slave. The main reason for her uncanny actions is due to her low social ranking, her struggle to rise to power, and her desire for John Proctor.
Abigail Williams started all these suspicions on witchcraft as she persuaded Tituba to engage in witchcraft with her, and her friends in the forests where she drinks blood, wishing to be with John Proctor the husband of Elizabeth Proctor. After being caught and accused of being condemned with the devil, she realizes that blaming people of witchcraft would have them hung. Here Abigail emerges into the manipulative ring leader who time again dodges trouble. She uses her power to eliminate her enemies, attempt to gain the heart of the man she loves, and in the end, sends 19 people to their deaths.
Mary Warren is Abigail’s opposite. She tends to side with the stronger power, as she is too timid to oppose, and although she does sentence a lot of people to death as well she does so out of fear. Mary Warren is easily swayed as seen when she is convinced by Abigail to partake in accusing people of witchcraft. Another example of her being easily swayed is when she informs John Proctor of Elizabeth’s arrest. She agrees to confess to lying about her accusations, but then revokes her confession in court; after Abigail accuses Proctor of witchcraft.
In conclusion, Miller portrays women in different ways. Rebecca Nurse is portrayed as honest, genuine, and a strong individual. Elizabeth Proctor is portrayed as a woman who is so “good” she ultimately “ends up blinded and annoyingly self-deprecating”. Mary Warren, as fearful, submissive, and easily swayed “women of eighteen”. Ann Putnam is paranoidly accusative, and the key antagonist Abigail is portrayed as an evil, remorseful, vindictive woman with loose morals.
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